Mental health: ethnic minority carers’ experiences

Carers' views on treatment and cure

Mental health problems are most commonly treated with medicines. 'Talking therapies' such as psychotherapy or counselling also help, but these therapies are sometimes difficult to access in the NHS. Some professionals believe a combination of medication and talking therapies has best results. Some people with severe mental health problems are given electroconvulsive therapy (ECT, where electricity is passed through the brain). For more about ECT see our website on 'ELectroconculsive Treatments'.

Other treatments can also help people manage their condition, for example relaxation techniques, exercise and cognitive behavioural therapy. (For more information about how to treat or manage mental health problems, see the Healthtalkonline websites on 'Mental health: ethnic minority experiences' and 'Depression').

Carers' views about psychiatric medication

Most carers agreed that psychiatric medication is essential for people with severe mental health problems. They said that 'wives, girlfriends and partners only can do so much, and the medicine can do the rest'. 

Many talked about how medication helped their relative to control their condition. Some people with mental health problems had tried lots of different medicines before they found one that 'worked for them' and that could be a matter of trial and error, which can be frustrating.

Many said the unwell person could be their 'own enemy' because they did not want to take the medicine (especially when feeling well), or because they also took illegal drugs or drank alcohol which reduced the positive effects of the medicine. 

Despite thinking medication can be very important, some carers said it can sometimes be 'too easy to prescribe medication.' Some felt people with mental health issues were 'kept at bay with sedatives' or given an unnecessary 'cocktail of drugs' and that some doctors should review their prescription practices. People also thought that 'tablets take away the symptoms but the problems will still be there'. Some felt that people in minority ethnic communities are more likely than others to be given psychiatric medication.

Some were concerned that while medication seemed to work for their relative, they also had side effects that were hard to live with. People talked about severe constipation, drowsiness, their relative becoming like 'zombies', or experiencing nightmares and weight gain. Some had become very passive and unable to do things for themselves. One carer said his son had become psychotic when he used two different medicines in combination.

Some said that carers should be told of possible side effects so they can help the person who is unwell and inform doctors.

Views about psychotherapy and 'talking cures'

Carers were concerned that overall, the treatment offered to people with mental health problems is too focused on medication. People said that more psychotherapy or counselling was needed. Some said that 'just giving tablets is not helping' and that it is necessary to talk to people and 'work with their emotions', taking into account their background, 'who he is and what he has lost'.

Some believed that services need to understand that unless people are able to talk about themselves they can't be adequately treated. Some suggested that what is needed is frequent counselling or psychotherapy in one-to-one support and 'not a five minute appointment once every three months'.

Many said that mental health problems affect a person's close relations, so it is important to involve family and friends in talking therapies. Raising awareness of mental health issues was also seen as important so that family members can identify early signs of mental health problems and get help to deal with emotional issues before people get really unwell.

Views about alternative and spiritual treatment

Carers talked about other forms of treatment which they hoped would help their relative manage their mental health problems or even recover from them.

Some said it helped their relative to do exercise like playing football or going for walks. One woman said Reiki therapy helped her aunt with Alzheimer to calm down. Another carer had arranged drama therapy to help discover the root cause of his wife's depression.

Some people had sought help and treatment from religious activities. Some believed that miracles could cure their loved one, but that it was up to higher powers to decide whether this would happen. Others said spiritual or pastoral care was useful in helping people to manage their condition and that 'prayer can give strength but not cure' mental health problems.

Some had been disappointed - they'd spent much money on religious cures that didn't work. This included special prayers in temples in the UK and abroad, or asking fortune tellers or mediums for help.

One woman said her brother had been cured of his mental illness by prayer and God's intervention'

Others too believed in spiritual causes and cures, but said religion could not be a substitute for doctors. They believed that 'God works through doctors' and the health service'

Hope

Some carers said that since it is now possible to treat some cancers that were seen as 'untreatable' until recently, they hoped new discoveries will also be made in psychiatric medicine.

Others had little hope that their relative would be cured or recover from their mental health problems. Those caring for someone with dementia said that with this illness there is no prospect of improvement. Others too said their doctor had told them that 'he'll never recover'. One carer said there had been a medicine that was too expensive for her doctor to prescribe, and said 'maybe that would have helped?' Some didn't think their loved one would ever be cured, but everyone hoped that they would get stable or even get a little better.

Many people thought that things had improved for their loved one over the years. This often happened when people found a medicine that worked better or were given beneficial support and activities. Improvements also happened when both the person who is unwell and the carer found ways to accept and better live with the condition.

When people noticed improvements, such as 'seeing glimpses of the old person' this could be a massive motivation to keep going. Others were encouraged when their relative started to be more interested in going on trips, caring about their appearance or taking part in household activities.

When people spoke of hope some mentioned their religious beliefs; one carer believed her husband could be cured of his depression and said 'because I have faith, I have hope'.

Some people pointed out that carers bring more hope to the situation than professionals. They said they would never give up trying to help their relative to get the most out of life.

Last reviewed June 2015.

Last updated June 2015.

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