Growing up in the UK Jewish community, we didn’t have much education about mental illness. Luckily this has changed and the community is now leading the way in terms of talking about the issue and battling the stigma against it.
As an example, I volunteer for the charity Jami – a mental health service for the Jewish community. As part of its service, Jami runs a wellbeing cafe, Head Room, in London. It’s an innovative social enterprise combining a coffee shop, vintage boutique and access point, which places mental health in the heart of the Jewish community.
Daniel Neis of Head Room says: ‘The cafe takes the subject of mental health out of an institutional context and into the heart of the community. ‘We have a wellbeing programme, which has been a great way of getting the community to think about mental health.’
Another project is run by Emma Levinson and her friend Sophie. It’s called the CBT (Cocktails/Cake before Therapy) Cafe. Emma is a member of West London Synagogue, who have supported her. The cafe provides a safe space for people to talk. Emma says: ‘It has been so touching to see people embrace the opportunity to talk and support each other through something that is so stigmatised.’
So how are other faith communities in the UK challenging the stigma surrounding mental health? ‘In the church it was frowned upon: ‘Christians don’t get depressed’
Daniel Heller is from Thrive LDN, an organisation supported by the London Mayor’s Office. It runs Interfaith projects to tackle mental health stigma. He says: ‘Our mental health event in February had 120 people who came together from different backgrounds to learn more. ‘Our panel was chaired by Rabbi Daniel Epstein and brought together the views of young people, health professionals, and faith community representatives. ‘People were there to find ways of supporting good mental health within their communities.’
I also spoke to people from Christian, Muslim, Sikh and Hindu backgrounds. They all had varying experiences with mental health stigma.
Author Jemma Regis says of her experiences as a Christian with depression: ‘I suffered in silence because depression was misunderstood. ‘Growing up in Caribbean culture, there was no such thing as depression. ‘In the church it was frowned upon: ‘Christians don’t get depressed’. ‘The stigma was real. It was seen as a weakness of one’s belief in God. ‘
Youth pastor Samuel Abelioshu adds: ‘In having responsibility as a leader, we often fear how the Church community will perceive us if we open up about our struggles and, therefore, we hide behind the mask that everything is OK. ‘We need to do more to start conversations about faith and mental health.’ Rach Pardner says of the positive aspects in her Church: ‘For me, my faith is the only thing that keeps me going at times. ‘My faith is the community that I never used to have, the family there, support that’s difficult to obtain elsewhere. We have a pastoral team’
The communal aspect of faith is important in protecting against stigma but it can also cause it. In the Muslim, Sikh and Hindu communities though, people are beginning to talk. As Hashmukh Kerai, a British Hindu says: ‘Dealing with mental health in the Hindu/Indian community has been hard. ‘The stigma meant I couldn’t speak out because there is a culture of being tough and very resilient. ‘Thankfully, I have met inspiring people from my background who have shared their personal stories of mental health.’
Shuranjeet Singh Takhar, a British Sikh and founder of the Taraki campaign, which aims to make it easier for Punjabi men to speak comfortably about mental health, concurs. ‘In UK Sikh communities there is still a culture of silence,’ he says. ‘Some Sikh men feel unable to discuss mental health openly due to perceptions of masculinity. ‘Younger Sikhs are slowly changing this as it is becoming less stigmatised; I started Taraki after my own personal experiences to help my community be open.’
Sana Kardar, an ex-Muslim living in the UK, says: ‘I have been given a list of prayers and chapters of Quran to say from an Imam, that I should recite to make sure that my mental health issues are not inviting the wrath of God. Mostly I have been shunned.’
Campaigner Tamanna Miah, a UK-Bangladeshi Muslim find this also in her work: ‘There is a lot of shame, fear and secrecy because people often worry about their reputation. ‘The stigma is so damaging to people’s lives, it can make people isolated and housebound, unable to do everyday things.’
But things are slowly starting to change. Myira Khan, a Muslim counsellor and psychotherapist founded the Muslim Counsellor And Psychotherapist Network in 2013. She says: ‘We have created a community of Muslim mental health medical practitioners to develop best practice, build support networks and host events. ‘We also work across the media too, and exchange and share our knowledge and experience. ‘ Things are changing within UK faith communities for the better, with innovative initiatives, but there is still more work to be done to reduce mental health stigma. So what should be done?
‘Change needs to come from within’, says Daniel. ‘That will happen if we enable ideas and information to be shared, and access to training.
‘Investment will help us with these things but, essentially, it’s about culture and relationships. ‘We also need to work with services, to understand more about how to relate to different religious attitudes, and cultures, and to do that we need listen.’
Read more: http://metro.co.uk/2018/03/14/change-needs-to-come-from-within-how-are-faith-communities-tackling-mental-health-stigma-7369113/?ito=cbshare
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