Provocation piece – Mental Health
Dr Samara Linton
Dr Samara Linton a doctor, award-winning writer and content creator. She is the co-author of Diane Abbott: The Authorised Biography and co-editor of The Colour of Madness: Exploring BAME Mental Health in the UK. She can be found tweeting at @Samara_Linton. Web: samaralinton.com.
I wake up with a tightness in my chest and restlessness in my limbs, and I wonder, is this sickness in my head or my body? When I clutch the handrails on the bus, and my breath quickens under my mask, I wonder, is this sickness in my head or my body? When I am made nauseous by food and immobilised by lethargy, I wonder, is this sickness in my head or my body? This is what it means to be me, a black woman with anxiety and depression.
We frequently hear that we are living in unprecedented times; that we are wading through uncharted waters. And for many, that is the case. For many, this is the first time they have had to live amid a background of anxiety and disquiet. For many, this is the first time that gathering with their friends is perceived as a threat, that shop attendants have eyed them with suspicion, and that strangers have moved away when they step too close. For many, this is the first time that they have doubted the motivations of their leaders, questioned whether hospitals are places of healing, and debated how best to tell their child that the outside world is not always safe.
But there are others for whom these times feel familiar. You see, many of us have spent years living at the juxtaposition of fear and hope. We have learnt how to chit-chat at work and entertain the kids amid a backdrop of anxiety and disquiet. We know what it means to laugh and play one day and then grieve and rage the next. You see, black women like me know what it means to hold both death and life, sickness and health in our hands at the same time. Those statistics about gender-based violence or figures on health disparities come to life in our day to day experiences. We are subject to low expectations at school and discrimination in the workplace. Our loved ones are harassed by the police, and we are attacked by trolls on the internet.
And now, Covid-19 is wreaking havoc in our communities. I think of my elders; aunties who are working on hospital wards during the day and mourning their losses at night. I think of the uncles who are heralded as heroes in the press but are belittled by their colleagues when the cameras are out of sight. I think of how our communities get lost within terms like BAME and POC, and our stories are sanitised by words like morbidity and mortality. I think of the miracle of our resilience, but also how our strength is used as an excuse to overlook our distress.
The black woman is resilient. Black women have higher rates of common mental disorders like anxiety and depression than any other group in the UK. The black woman is strong. A US study found medics believe black people feel less pain than white people. The black woman is a survivor. Black women are five times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women, the highest of any group. When I wake with a tightness in my chest and restlessness in my limbs, clutch the handrails on the bus, and my breath quickens; I wonder, is this sickness in my head or my body? But then I look beyond myself and see this pattern of distress repeated again and again. I see it repeated in women who look like me, and I wonder, is this sickness all our heads, all our bodies? Or is this sickness in our society? This is what it means to be me, a black woman with anxiety and depression.
Do you have lived experience of the challenges Samara has described? Have you been involved in tackling the impacts of poor mental health among women and girls? If so, we want to hear from you on how Scotland can take positive action to address the issues and gender imbalance facing women and girls when it comes to supporting good mental health. Join the conversation and share your views using the #GenerationEqual or have your say at OneScotland.org/NACWG.”