Manchester based organisation Together as One Trust (TAOT) has organised a series of zoom workshops on the effects of COVID-19 on mental health mainly among young people from ethnic minority groups across the region. The organisation decided to use zoom because of the restrictions on physical meetings imposed by government to help stop the rapid spread of the virus across the country. More than fifty thousand people have died in the UK since the outbreak of the deadly pandemic in early March 2020
Funding for the workshops was made possible through a generous grant provided by The National Lottery Community Fund and the Department for Digital, Culture and Sports of the UK government
We invited an experienced Forensic Psychiatric Practitioner with Pennine Care. He previously worked as a Community Development Worker for many years. Also, in one of his past roles, he worked with asylum seekers as well as refugees and Black and Minority Ethnic groups, looking at how they access and utilize mental health services in the United Kingdom.
The Zoom sessions
All the zoom workshops began with a brief introduction presentation by Vivan Tafor, Project Manager of Together as One Trust. He thanked participants for taking time off to attend the educative workshops which became necessary because of the detrimental effects of COVID-19 especially on black and minority ethnic people in the Country in general and Manchester City in particular
Mancho Innocent, the main resource person led all the debates telling participants the early signs of mental issues which could be anything from low energy through extreme mood changes to confused thinking and reduced ability to concentrate. Mr Mancho said COVID19 being relatively a new virus, the uncertainty surrounding it and difficulties getting an effective vaccine quickly was having a negative mental effect on a lot of people. He advised participants to seek medical help when they noticed any symptoms of mental health stress. Participants were encouraged to ask questions during each session to which they had adequate answers.
Why the Focus on BME?
According to TAOT Project Manager Mr Tafor, the management committee of the organisation decided to organise the workshops with a particular focus on Black and minority people because of figures from the Office of National statistics on how the virus was adversely affected these people disproportionally. The Office of National Statistics (ONS) figures indicated 1 in 4 people who died in the UK from Covid-19 were from the Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) group. However, only 13% of the UK population is made of this group. So, the impact of covid-19 on this ethnic group is disproportionate. Why is this?
Black and minority people occupy the lower tier in the society’s economic and social strata.
Also, their lifestyle choices are determined by their income hence limited access to good quality of goods and services. Experience shows that people with less money tend to eat unhealthy foods
People with less money also tend to engage in unhealthy habits such as taking substances for example drugs, and alcohol, less physical exercises
So, poverty has a correlation on how covid-19 is impacting on their health. Furthermore, people with underlying health conditions are more at risk of suffering the impact of the pandemic than those without such conditions. The conditions include:
High blood pressure
Obesity and many more.
People from the BME community have a higher chance of developing these conditions. Part of the reason is that their diets have a lot more fats and palm oil, more salt etc.
Cultural factors include
Religious/spiritual beliefs – people believe that their faith can protect them when they are ill. As a result, some of them do not seek medical help on time, rather praying and fasting in the hope that the illness will go away. The consequence is that outcomes as far as health is concerned, are poor.
The impact of covid-19
- being scared following the outbreak of the pandemic
- difficulty socializing and mostly staying indoors
- consequently, mental health issues such and stress, anxiety and depression kicked in
- worried about contracting and or spreading the virus to loved ones
- struggled using online lesson materials provided by institutions as this was not the same as usual learning method such as classroom settings
- because we did not actually take the GCSE exams, and grades rather estimated by teachers I felt disadvantaged by the grading system
- extra stress and anxiety caused by exams situation
- being at home meant too much schoolwork to catch-up on and not knowing where to start at some stage
- difficulty separating home from schoolwork time and one had to be at home 24/7
Coping with covid-19
During an interactive session with the youngsters, the Forensic Psychiatric Practitioner Mancho Innocent brought out the following points to be taken on board to help manage the impact of covid-19 on the mental health of young people from BME communities:
- focusing on self and not giving up on exams simply because of the current covid-19 related challenges
- not to turn to social media for answers
- talking about one’s feelings to family members and people you trust
- connect with people around your family and close friends
- exercise and go out for walks and be as active as possible
- avoid going out with peers who are bad influence to avoid for example sexual exploitation and other crime-related activity
- start dealing with tasks that are easy to do and everything will feel better and lighter
- talk to professionals if parents are not able to help, such as your GP or dial 111 for advice
- other organisations that might be able to help include Minds, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
- eat healthy foods, loads of fruits and vegetables
Five ways to wellbeing
- to connect – establish, maintain positive and healthy relations with the people around you such as family/friends, look for warmness and social network of support
- being active – physical activities are good for people’s mental wellbeing. A walk or going to the gym for instance, access to online videos is possible
- learning new things, gaining new knowledge is always so enriching an experience as well as rewarding
- emotional resilience: bouncing back from a setback – how? Being able to look at t bright side of things, pick yourself up etc. being able to build your resilience is a good way of arming oneself to better manage mental health
- available support for example, MIND, a mental health charity, TAOT, African Mental Health Foundation (AMHF). When people disconnect from their immediate social networks, consequences can include grooming, radicalization, seeking support from the wrong places, they may even build up this bond from outside or get drawn into regrettable acquaintances. If you find yourself feeling apart from the people around you, speak to someone trusting enough say from a church community, parents, or any other trusted individual such as your GP, or counselor
Anger: happiness and sadness etc are emotional responses to situations. It is not a bad thing to be angry. What is bad is what you do when you are angry. So, it is not the emotion but the behavior accompanying the emotion that might be the problem. For example, no one goes to jail for being angry, but they go to jail because of what they do when they are angry. Mention must be made of the fact that anger is good because it tells you that you are human and you have feelings and you can respond to situations.
At the end of each session, participants were invited to express their views about the session. The following views were expressed by participants:
A female participant said she now better understands that it is okay to be angry and frustrated about stuff but also, they now know better to be mindful of what they do when they are angry and frustrated.
A second male participant said he had learnt not to bottle things up, but to offload them, to share thoughts with close and trusted persons such as family and friends etc
All participants were encouraged to take time to look after their mental health and offering to help others when they could or volunteering with organisations like TAOT to help others in difficult situations.
Other issues including in the discussions during the zoom sessions included being careful about interacting with strangers on social media as this could lead to crime, engaging in sports and physical exercises frequently, learning new skills and meditation.
A Workshop Video