While mental health is now much more openly discussed and accepted among the UK population than it once was, it is still much more of a taboo subject within black and ethnic minority communities.
However, a social enterprise called Find A Balance has been established in Hackney to help young people with mental health conditions. The service specialises in black and ethnic minority mental health issues, although it is open to all races and communities. Francis works with young people aged between eight and eighteen, eighteen and over. Find A Balance – FAB, started in November 2016 and offers vital support to individuals and families who suffer in silence from mental health issues.
It founder, Samantha Francis said: ”I gave my service its name because it’s about finding your balance mentally and physically. My son had a psychotic breakdown in November 2013. I found that the services provided by the NHS didn’t work for him. He had to wait eight months for talking therapy, and when that time came he was taken off the list, so he didn’t even get it. How is that helping someone with mental health? This should have been accessible straight away.”
Francis chose to specialise in working with young black and ethnic minority people, because of the huge stigma surrounding mental health. She told ELL: “We [the black community] just don’t talk about it. When I first told my mum that I was feeling really low and depressed, she told me: you’ve got a good home, good children, a good job, what’s wrong with you? There are worse things happening in the world.”
Francis wanted to create a mental health service which focused on early intervention, before problems developed into a serious mental health condition. FAB mainly works with NEETs – those not Not in Employment, Education, or Training – , offering bespoke early intervention mental health programmes. They also partner with organisations to offer cultural therapy such as art classes and yoga. FAB also works with individuals already in employment.
Francis’ service offers an on-going 24-week personalised programme. Therapy can be accessed within seven days. Francis is presently working with fifteen clients at a time. Individuals can be referred via the FAB website from which a full assessment of the client will follow, either at FAB’s offices or in the person’s own home. Costs can be between £1200.00 to £240.00 minimum per individual, depending on the clients needs.
There is also a 12-week physical programme which focuses on well being and the importance of endorphins – chemicals released from the brain which induce feelings of happiness. The remaining 12 weeks are dedicated to supporting individuals and their families via therapy sessions, family consultations, advocacy and education. Francis said the programme was intense as “we [BAME community] are at the severe end of mental health.”
According to mentalhealth.org, African-Caribbean people in the UK are three to five times more likely to be diagnosed and admitted to hospital for schizophrenia, compared to other ethnic groups. According to the 2014 Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing by the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, at 13.3 per cent, white British people were the ethnic group most likely to report receiving treatment compared with around 7 per cent of people in minority ethnic groups (including White non-British). Black adults had the lowest treatment rate, at 6.2 per cent.
Francis said: “A holistic approach is needed because most of the time, families struggle to understand the situation. They dismiss it as witchcraft or nonsense. Then when everything explodes, and the person is sectioned they realize that person isn’t well – but they don’t recognize that they are ill.”
Francis, who grew up in Hackney, got into The School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE), where she received funding. She also received backing from INVESTEC, a corporate bank which helped her to set up FAB. Francis is also currently applying through the Flexible Support fund (FSF) for further financial assistance.
Francis is passionate about working with adults, conducting group sessions, advising and supporting young people. Working with clients from the beginning to the end, and seeing a change for the better in their lives, is what makes Francis enjoy what she does.
Although FAB is currently only available in Hackney, Francis wants it to be recognised as an official service by the NHS so it can be offered nationally.
Eche Egbuonu, organiser of ‘Prison by another name: mental health and the black community’, seminars in Hackney is among those who have been treated by Find A Balance. He said: “I was initially diagnosed with non-organic psychosis, which then turned into bipolar effective disorder with psychotic features… I was locked in a police cell after being sectioned instead of being taken directly to the hospital…[that] imprisonment is by far the most traumatic thing that has ever happened to me.”
Since then, Egbuonu, has been sharing his experiences with others in the community. “I established my monthly seminars to provide a platform where the community can get together and discuss the issue of mental health. I have also finished a book called “My polar opposites; A Blessing in the Skies”, which captures my journey.”
“Talking to Find a Balance may have prevented me from being sectioned as I was resistant to speaking with NHS professionals and even members of my own family at times. This is a service that the BAME community has needed for years.”
For more details on the service and how to refer an individual, please visit http://findabalance.org.
Tickets for January 2017 are available for the next instalment of Prison by another name: mental health and the black community.
My Polar Opposites: A Blessing in the Skies, is available to buy online.
Follow Eunice Marfo on Twitter.