Mental health: ethnic minority experiences

David - Interview 15

Age at interview: 37
Age at diagnosis: 37

Brief outline: David, 37, describes his ethnicity as mixed (White/North African). David was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder and severe depression, 29 years after he first saw a psychiatrist. David's wife is also his carer.

Background: Married. Ethnic background/nationality: Mixed race (African/White) (born UK).

Audio & video

David, 37, describes his ethnicity as mixed (White/African). David says he feels emotionally and culturally like a white person (because he was raised by his white grandparents) and caught in limbo like other people of mixed race.

David experiences breakdowns every 5-6 years. David says he thinks his personality is “quite distorted” as a result of the traumatic events he's experienced (being beaten-up, conflicts with his grandfather, his relationship with his mother). He describes feeling crushed, despondent, friendless, helpless, and vulnerable. He has felt suicidal and hurt himself. He is also bothered by disturbing images. Before taking medication, David would flare-up and destroy things around him and then break down in tears. At that time, he was so terrified of having mental illness and was worried about being hospitalised, given a lobotomy, or electro-convulsive therapy, he was in denial and felt suicidal. He discussed his feelings with his GP who reassured him he would only receive medication - David stopped being in denial and started seeking a diagnosis.

David was diagnosed in 2007 with complex post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), borderline personality disorder and severe depression, 29 years since he first saw a psychiatrist. Getting these diagnoses was important for David because he says it told him that what happened in his past was not his fault, and it tells other people that he has a genuine mental illness. Prior to this, people thought he had an attitude problem and a bad temper; psychiatrists seemed to think he was dodging work. Until recently, David says services would patch him up with a superficial diagnosis and treatment and send him away. David feels things are coming together now that he and his wife have somewhere stable to live and he's receiving the treatment and medication he needs. David says he has a very sympathetic GP and a very good psychiatrist who is from an ethnic minority background. David says this helps because he would have had similar experiences of being racially harassed, beaten-up, not taken seriously, and patronised.

David found that cognitive behavioural therapy, talking therapies and meditation did not work for him, but his medication (Fluoextine, haloperidol and lamotrigine) has been a “lifesaver”. David used to smoke cannabis to escape but now he avoids it in case it interferes with his medication. Having nice, peaceful accommodation and avoiding things that upset him make his life easier. David also gets support from his wife who does the cooking, deals with the benefits, letters and other bureaucratic jobs. His wife has had a lot of help from carer support services.

David feels his problems stem from his schooldays' he retaliated to racist bullying and on one occasion was locked in a cupboard (aged 5) and on another he was referred to a child psychologist (aged 8). The child psychologist recommended David eat a better breakfast and change his Arabic sounding name to an English sounding one. David, who was raised by his grandparents, says his childhood was stressful because his family was unstable (his mother and father were separated), his mother had a string of relationships and his father was in danger because of the political situation in his home country. Despite difficulties at school, David did well in his A-levels and went on to complete a degree.

David thinks he will not recover but that his symptoms can be managed. He says mental illness does not have to be the end your life, even though it can be debilitating - he recommends that people try to get the treatment they need.


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