Mental health: ethnic minority experiences

Devon - Interview 12

Age at interview: 49
Age at diagnosis: 22

Brief outline: Devon, 49, is married and was born in Jamaica; he came to the UK in 1965. He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia aged 22 and depression aged 48. He is a founder member of the organization Sound Minds a user-led music project.

Background: Entertainer, married with 1 adult child and 7 stepchildren. Ethnic background/nationality: Afro-Caribbean (born Jamaica); in UK for 42 years.

Audio & video

Devon, aged 49, is of Afro-Caribbean origin and came to the UK aged 7 to join his parents when his grandmother died. Devon is a founder member of the music project Sound Minds. His band, Investigators, reached number one in the reggae charts in the 70s.

In his twenties, Devon began grieving for his grandmother' he was squatting, not eating properly, smoking drugs and didn't care what happened to him. His mother became concerned and called a doctor who wanted to admit Devon to hospital, Devon protested and the police came. In hospital, Devon was sectioned under the Mental Health Act and restrained and tranquilised. Devon believes he was given a heavy dose of medication (Modecate) because he was tall with long hair and therefore perceived to be violent' he couldn't stand up and would dribble. After a year, he attended a day hospital and then a community day centre. 

When Devon ran a music workshop for young Black men he felt like he was getting better so he stopped taking his medication, had a relapse and was hospitalised again. After leaving hospital he attended a rehabilitation service but felt isolated' he thought the only person who could help was God. Devon asked a minister to pray for him to be well again and the minister laid his hands on him and prayed and Devon gave himself to Jesus as a Christian and became a Deacon, preaching and teaching Sunday School.

While working in the hospital as an occupational therapy technician, the hospital asked Devon to run a community music project. The project became Sound Minds - - a user-led charity. At Sound Minds Devon plays in a reggae band, runs live band sessions, works with their drama company Theatre Vision, and runs a buddying scheme. For Devon, music is therapeutic. Devon also sits on the London Implementation Team meetings, and does media work speaking and advising about mental health. He's glad to have a voice.

Devon thinks his mental health problems were caused by the death of his grandmother and the lack of bonding he had with his parents. He believes that symptoms differ for Black people because of their culture and because they are more spiritual. He also believes that medication affects Black people differently, perhaps because of the pigmentation in their skin. Devon says institutionalised racism is no one's fault but is embedded within the system. To treat mental illness Devon believes you should address the root problem mentally, physically and spiritually. He doesn't think there is a cure but that people need different treatment and support as they develop. 

Devon says his story is a calling, a spiritual quest and that mental health problems can be a gift. He describes himself as a 'wounded healer' because he helps other people going through what he has been through. He thinks service users should create their own services and help each other and that services should provide support and training for this.


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