A new partnership has been formed to raise awareness of mental health issues among refugee communities in Lewisham.
The Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network have joined with the charity Bromley Mind to apply for a £30,000 grant from mental health fund ‘Time To Change’. The charities hope to use the money to launch their campaign, ‘Hear Our Stories’, next year.
Rosario Mincher, chief executive of the Migrant Network, said: “We want to recruit refugees with different experiences, and give them the training to be storytellers.”
Darren Vella, of Bromley Mind added: “The storytellers will themselves have experience of mental health issues.
“By using this experience and telling their story to others we hope that they will become empowered by this experience and by doing so empower others.”
The Hear Our Stories project aims to target Afro-Caribbean, Somali and Tamil communities, recruiting between six to twelve refugee storytellers from each group.
According to the 2011 census, there are currently 47,000 people from these communities living in Lewisham and around 8,000 in Bromley.
Mincher explained: “Many refugees have suffered persecution and torture, and all kinds of gender-based violence – FGM, rape, sex trafficking – the effects of this are not just physical but mental.
“In the refugee community, people with mental health issues are often stigmatised.”
She added: “This stops them being open and seeking the help that they need. We hope that ‘Hear Our Stories’ will help to change this.”
If the charities win the grant, refugee storytellers will speak at community events including Refugee Week, Lewisham People’s Day and Bromley Diversity Day.
These speakers will be encouraged to use their native languages as well as English, so as to reach out to older generations who struggle with English.
LRMN is based in Deptford and supports over 400 clients from countries such as Nigeria, Somalia, Vietnam, and Afghanistan with issues including benefits, housing, health, and education.
Bromley Mind, part of the national Mind mental health support charity, operates the Lewisham Memory Service and also organises a community support service in the borough.