Mental health: ethnic minority experiences

Jay - Interview 27

Female
Age at interview: 42
Age at diagnosis: 34

Brief outline: Jay, 42, describes herself as Black-British. She was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder aged 34 and now works in mental health. Jay's voices say mainly negative things, but two voices encourage her and give her tenacity and drive.

Background: Voluntary development coordinator, single with 2 adult children. Ethnic background/nationality: Black-British (born UK).

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Jay, 42, describes herself as Black-British. She was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder aged 34 and believes her mental health problems stem from trauma she experienced as a child, including racist bullying. Jay says she developed other personalities to deal with these events, including an angry, violent persona to protect herself. Jay says she always felt like she didn't fit in and began mixing with “dodgy characters” and witnessed murders. To blank things out, Jay drank alcohol and smoked weed. She thinks that smoking weed contributed to her psychosis and paranoia. 

When Jay became unwell, says stopped functioning, stayed in the house for 2 months without seeing anybody, and stopped caring for herself. Her sister called a GP and the early intervention team were sent to Jay's home. Jay went voluntarily to the referral unit, because she was told if she refused, she would be sectioned. After 5 weeks, Jay went home and started attending a day centre until she got a voluntary placement in a charity shop. This led Jay to get a part-time job in a shop which she found difficult at first, which led to another job in area she was interested in. Jay says she became unwell a second time because of the difficult relationship she had with her colleague, and without a community psychiatric nurse (CPN) to support her, she had no one to talk to. Jay's daughter, then aged 13, noticed she was unwell and informed the GP who referred Jay for counselling. 

Jay has many different voices in her head all the time, mainly saying negative things. Jay has lost some the voices in the past 5 years, but has to work hard to manage the others because they can tell her to do dangerous things. Jay believes she will probably always have some voices. Jay also has visual hallucinations; she sees animals and insects. To keep well, Jay writes poetry, tries to keep a balance in her life and pampers herself. Jay thought she was unique until she met other voice-hearers who have similar coping strategies, for example, talking to and reasoning with their voices to ensure they don't become disruptive, and learning to keep what they say to herself and not react in public. She also discovered that many historical figures were voice-hearers.

Jay has tried different kinds of medication and experienced many side-effects including lactation, drowsiness, weight gain, dribbling, staring and muscle twitches. Jay has been taking Quetiapine for 8 years and the only side-effect is sedation, which makes it difficult for Jay to get up in the morning and causes difficulties getting to work on time. Jay's daughter used to be her carer from the age of 11. She would bathe and comfort her, do laundry and shopping. Jay says she's the best thing she ever did with her life.

Jay says services were indifferent to her being a Black woman and had nothing that she could identify with that made her feel welcome. Jay says her counsellor - a white Irish woman with a person-centred approach to counselling - was excellent because she allowed Jay to explore her feelings and make decisions without judging her. Jay's message to professionals is “see a person, not a diagnosis”.

Jay supports people with mental health problems to do voluntary work. She says this role helps to keep her well. When Jay became unwell in her current job, people treated her differently when she returned to work. Jay's employers now know about her mental health and they have an arrangement where Jay arrives late to work, she works late to make up the time.

Jay is happy being herself. She says she has tenacity and drive, and at least two of her voices encourage her. Jay says that regardless of what you're experiencing, there will be someone else who has been through the same experience, and whatever it is, it can be overcome.

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