Mental health: ethnic minority carers’ experiences

Support from family, friends and community

Family, friends and the community can give lots of support to carers. Practical help with shopping, transport, or looking after the person who is unwell for a couple of hours can make life easier. Having someone who listens or a shoulder to cry on is important emotional support. Meeting up for coffee, going for a walk together or just 'having a laugh' is also great social support which give carers a break. Some also get financial support from those around to help make ends meet.

The carers we spoke to had different needs and expectations of support from those around them. Some people received more support than others. For one or two people, a lack of support meant they felt at 'breaking point.' These people wondered if they could go on caring. Others believed they did get the support they needed, or could get more support from health and social services (see 'Support from carers' services').

Support from family 
Close family was the most important source of practical and emotional support for most carers we talked to, with some also getting financial help. Grown up children, for example, often lent a hand or an ear.

Social contact and companionship was the type of support most carers appreciated. For instance, one woman said that life became more enjoyable when their son, who lives with them, had a baby daughter who brightened up everyday life.

Many reported, however, that they didn't get much - or at least not enough - support from close relatives. Very often most of the practical tasks fell on one person who ended up 'picking up all the pieces.' This person landed the job of carer for a range of reasons, including:

  • Not being married
  • Being oldest female
  • Living in the same household
  • Being the most capable
  • Simply because they were not walking away from the situation.

Many carers felt that some family members could 'make more of an effort' to visit, call or help out with practical things like preparing food or being involved with medical care. Anton, who suffers from depression, has felt this most acutely in the periods he was unwell himself. 

Support from friends
People had similar experiences with support from friends. Some got great support while others felt people pulled away or did less than they had hoped, adding to their sense of isolation (see 'Children, family and social life'). 

People thought many friends didn't really understand how it is to care for someone with a mental health problem. Rather than judge or give unhelpful advice, the people we spoke to liked friends just to 'be there' so you could 'be yourself' and 'let off steam'. Some said it is difficult, or even impossible, to understand properly what it is like to be a carer if you haven't experienced mental health caring yourself.

For those who had close family and friends abroad, help and support can be sporadic. Some people did get support via phone calls or occasional visits.

Making friends and getting support from other carers was seen as very helpful because they can understand the situation 'without too much explaining'.

Support from the community 
Some people said that in the UK 'you don't know your neighbours' and that it is more 'each man on his own' compared with many other cultures. Many of the carers we spoke to didn't really seek help from neighbours, not wanting to 'bother them too much'. 

Others did get regular support from neighbours. One man said his neighbour would 'pop by' to see his mother during the day if he had to go to meetings. Some found neighbours to be good company for themselves or for the person they cared for.

Some carers had not told family, friends or the community about the mental health problem in the family because they feared - or had experienced - that people 'turn their backs' and didn't understand (see 'Negative attitudes to mental health problems'). 

Others felt supported by their workplace, community or by people from their place of worship. Help with interpretation or filling in of forms was mentioned as well as feeling a sense of belonging when taking part in community events. One woman said her husband was 'more normal' when he was with others from the community. Several people said it helped to get support from within their own ethnic community because they might 'understand better'. 

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Given some negative attitudes (see 'Negative attitudes to mental health problems') many said it could be difficult to get support from their community because of gossip and prejudice. Some thought churches, temples or mosques were unsupportive or not open minded enough about mental health issues (see 'Support from spirituality and religion').

One woman who had lived in the UK for seven years said that 'as a foreigner, there is no community' to get support from. Her brothers in East Africa ring her regularly and want her son to return there so that he can get support from a more close knit community.

While people had many comments about how community support differs in different cultures (see 'What different cultures can teach us'), some felt all communities need to 'get together' to give more support to carers and patients.

Last reviewed June 2015.

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