Mental health: ethnic minority experiences

Support from charities & support groups

There are lots of national and local support groups and charities that provide support, advice and sometimes practical assistance and services for people with mental health problems. Many people had been to a support group, support centre or organisation - some had been referred or recommended to go by their GP. A few people got help via their carer or went along with their carer. Some people went to groups and organisations specifically for people from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds.

Benefits of using mental health support groups
Most people found going to groups and organisations of this kind helpful, including one man who thought that professionals sometimes didn't realise how helpful these things can be. One of the main benefits of using support groups and organisations was the opportunity to socialise and talk with “other people like me”. Many people made lasting friendships that they continued outside of the group, and some made friends all over the world via the internet and email. Some, however, emphasised that the people they met were not their friends, "it's not like people I'd hang out with”.

Lots of people felt that talking and sharing experiences with people was really important and gave this as a reason for attending a group or centre. Although some people found talking helpful, they didn't always share their experiences with others [see Terri below] - several people remarked that it was a problem when other people didn't want to talk because they felt that was the reason to go in the first place.

Many people emphasised the benefits of meeting and talking to “like-minded people”. Such meetings provided people with an opportunity to hear other people's stories, discuss treatments and help each other. One woman felt it was “such a great comfort” to find people with the same symptoms, and another thought people with personal experience give better advice than people without. Several people talked about being able to “compare notes”, and some found comfort in comparing themselves with others who they saw as being more unwell than themselves. Lots of people said that they learnt a lot from attending the groups and speaking to others about support groups, coping strategies, symptoms, medication, and social security benefits, including one man who said it was satisfying to help others in this way.

Of particular importance was the feeling that people with personal experience of mental health problems are better able to understand - and this was important to many people. One man said he wouldn't discuss his depression with people who had not experienced it. Many people said they felt calm and at ease amongst other people with similar experiences because they knew they wouldn't be shocked by or prejudiced against them because of their mental health problems. Although people with experience of mental health problems attended the groups, one man remarked that the staff were too busy to talk - even though this would make people feel more welcome - and remarked not many people from Sikh backgrounds attended.

One woman felt that people with personal experience were “the best people” to set up support groups “because we know what we want and what we need”.

These support services helped people in different ways: some benefited from one-to-one meetings with a keyworker or practical help and advice about accommodation and social security benefits; while others enjoyed the activities that were on offer, including cooking, reflexology, computers, day trips and social nights out, films, walking, and pool [see Judy below].

A few people mentioned how being involved in these activities gave a boost to their confidence, including one woman who said getting involved in a project helped her to feel useful and capable again. One man, however, felt there should be more activities at the centre he attended (see 'Suggestions for improving services'). Some found the 24 hour support offered by the internet or in one case, an answerphone service (with breathing exercises for people having panic attacks), particularly helpful. Others were just glad to have somewhere or somebody to go to, including one woman who said it gave her something to look forward to. Another woman said that although she'd had her differences with the organisation she attended, going there made her feel cared for.

Difficulties associated with using support groups
Attending groups isn't always easy. One woman felt afraid about going to a new place, “because I didn't know the bus route, I didn't know where I was going”. Others found it difficult and even stopped attending their groups because they found it “hard”, felt they didn't fit in, didn't feel like going or found it too tiring [see Anton above].

There were also practical barriers for some. The location of groups sometimes meant people had to travel to somewhere new or far away to attend - and people's location could also determine whether a group was available or not in their area. A few people attended groups in several different locations. One woman chose to attend a group that was not local because there would be other people from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds there.

People also talked about fitting groups in around their housework, work, travelling, and looking after children.

Some people had never attended a support group or had decided to stop going because they felt they had enough support and people to talk to among family and friends. One woman found attending a support group too depressing.

Another man said he was willing to try anything but didn't know of any.

Last reviewed June 2015.

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