Mental health: ethnic minority experiences

What else helps

There are many different ways of managing mental health problems, including taking medication, using alternative therapies or seeking comfort in spiritual beliefs and practices. People also develop other ways of managing that suit them and their lifestyle. For example, many people talked about looking after themselves or doing “self-healing things” and a few people said they changed their lifestyle altogether. These strategies often involved doing particular things or, in some cases, avoiding things.

Helpful activities
Many people found exercising, running, swimming, or going to the gym helpful. Others enjoyed getting out of the house to do some shopping or just for a walk: “just being in the fresh air lifts my spirit and energises me”. 

Many people talked about keeping busy or doing things like hobbies or watching television as a form of distraction. People also benefited from making time for themselves and resting.

Having a sense of humour and having a laugh with friends was also important for some. Several people also mentioned their family responsibilities as something that helped them to cope, although these could also be stressful. (See 'The role of family, friends & carers'.)

Talking and expressing feelings either to family and friends or to other people with mental health problems also helps. Comparing experiences with other people was found to be especially useful (see 'Support from charities & support groups') [see Jay above]. One woman enjoyed going to a Latin American group to dance and talk to people in her own language. A few people valued holidays in their own country where they could forget their problems and relax.

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Some people mentioned that paid or voluntary work also acted as a distraction as well as providing a sense of achievement or purpose.

Some people described how helpful writing had been for them, helping them to express themselves and giving them a purpose. Several people had written their life story, or poetry and letters. Keeping a diary helped some become aware of what progress they had made [see Edward below].

Others mentioned music and art. One woman had produced a diagram depicting the different stages of her life and how they led to her breakdown and then recovery.

Avoiding things
For some people, however, such activities could trigger symptoms or were just unhelpful. One man tried running and said, “it didn't help me at all, I feel worse afterwards”. For these reasons, some people avoided particular activities such as watching television or going out, either in general or at times when they might be particularly vulnerable. Some people avoided things that they found stressful like using the telephone or opening the post (see David's story). Having a stable, quiet home life and maintaining a balanced lifestyle was therefore important for many.

Diet, alcohol and drugs
Diet has been found to have an impact on mental health. Lots of people thought that their diet was important: they described avoiding junk food and trying to eat healthy, home cooked foods, and fruit and vegetables. One woman had been advised not to drink caffeine. A few people said they sometimes ate to feel better. 

Many people talked about using alcohol or drugs to “self-medicate”. One man had felt tempted to try drugs because nothing else worked for him, but said he was too scared. Those who had tried using drugs found them unhelpful (see Chapman's story) and recommended that others avoided them (see 'Messages for others'). Some people liked to smoke but equally a few said that giving up smoking had helped their mental health problems. It is important to be aware of the damage drugs, alcohol and smoking can cause to the body.

Self-harm
Some people used self-harm as a way of channelling their anger and distress or managing their feelings and a few used fantasies of suicide as a form of escape (see Ali's story). See our resources for links and phone numbers for crisis helplines.

Other ways of managing mental health problems included learning “danger signs” [see Edward above] and techniques (see Hanif's story) and doing things to minimise anxiety.

Some people described talking to themselves, reflecting on positive aspects of their lives and themselves. One woman described making time for her voices [see Jay above].

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Positive attitude
Having a positive attitude was also considered to be important (see 'Recovery'). Some people said they tried to forget about their mental health problems. Others felt it was “something I've just got to cope with” and refused to let their mental health problems take over their lives. Some forced themselves to face their fears and do things they were uncomfortable with: “once you face them you'll be better”.

Last reviewed June 2015.

Last updated February 2013.

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