D's Story

What does it look like to seek help for mental health if you are a young black man? Many thanks to D for sharing this powerful story about the problems of accessing mental health services in Sheffield. This story is part of the Mind The Gap project.

Black man turned away from camera

Anonymous’s story (we refer to him as D)

Age: 20


I started having mental health difficulties about 3 years ago when I started uni and was exposed to adult life, pressure, and stress. At the beginning it was like manageable stress and general anxiety but gradually it became like being paranoid, it was like, what’s the word, like a kind of ‘underlied’, a kind of background anxiety, and I realised it wasn’t normal.

It was a couple of months ago that I decided to seek professional help and the service I was looking for was one to one therapy; I wanted to sit down with somebody and talk about my problems. But it wasn’t free, I had to pay for it and I couldn’t afford £50 per hour. So I did a self-referral through the NHS website but it has a long waiting time. They called me once (one month after my online self-referral) and told me to do an online program called Silver Cloud but that’s not what I was looking for. I prefer a traditional kind of one to one therapy, to talk to someone that could help me realise what’s going on and what is the root of my anxiety. When I realised it’s not what I was expecting I left it [Silver Cloud].

I have tried to find out how long I should wait for counselling through NHS but have heard nothing. At the moment, I am not getting any help. I feel my issues are not prioritised. Unless it’s extreme they don’t do anything at all. That’s my opinion.

The pandemic affected my mental health at the beginning because some people use social interaction and environment to manage their anxiety, and the force to be by yourself and be in a confined space for a long time will just amplify it. It makes you worse because there is no way to distract your mind from anxiety.

I try to help myself. I am a Christian and I try to pray and meditate and stuff like that to ease my mind, find some clarity and not get into some dark place. Sometimes it helps.

I know part of my anxiety is because, as a young black man, I am constantly worried and anxious about things most people are not worried about. I have to be very cautious about certain things, places I go, not to be in a wrong place, and what I do. For example, one time when I was walking from university and it was evening and a bit dark, I was walking normally and had my headphones on and someone was walking on the same pavement towards my direction and when saw me quickly crossed the road. They don’t want to go near you, if you know what I mean. I was like I’m not going to do anything to you, I’m just going home and it added to my anxiety and worries.

Social-wise there are certain things which might be quite easy and normal for other people to do, but you can’t do as a black man. You don’t have that freedom. If you go to a club, for example, you have to be very careful otherwise the security starts picking on you and kick you out. They think you are violent or want to cause problems just because of the colour of your skin.

You get targeted by shop securities, night club securities, and everywhere you go. It’s something that white people don’t have to be worried about or even think about. It’s something you can’t even talk about and have to hold at the back of your head. It makes my anxiety worse and if I tell other non-black people they wouldn’t understand and think I am weird.

I haven’t seen a therapist yet but if I could access a black therapist, it would probably be more relatable as they could understand my problems. If you are female and, for example, have experienced sexual abuse you would want to see a female therapist that would understand you better, you would be more comfortable to share your experience. My anxiety around racism and discrimination would be more understandable for people of colour. You can be more open and express that specific sort of anxiety that you face on a daily basis.

I don’t talk about my mental health to my family and community, it’s something you don’t talk about. My community don’t talk about traumas and think if they do they will be told off or get into trouble or something bad would happen to them and that might be the roots of many issues including mental health. Also in some religious families mental health is seen like more demoniacal and something not from God.

There is no understanding unless you share your story but black people have their own reasons not to share, and a lot of people just keep it to themselves. Especially for men there is no sense of being vulnerable or show vulnerability and that’s why I don’t talk about it with people around me. I prefer to talk and expose myself to professionals who could understand and help me.

I am happy to share my experience and hope it helps my community but prefer to be anonymous.

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