Mental health: ethnic minority experiences

Mae - Interview 04

Age at interview: 62
Age at diagnosis: 45

Brief outline: This 62 year old woman has manic depression and describes herself as mixed race. She enjoys life now and is glad to be alive. She thinks going to groups is important and says black families sometimes push away relatives with mental health problems.

Background: Retired cook, divorced with 2 surviving adult children. Ethnic background/nationality: Mixed race (Black/white) (UK born).

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Mae, 62, describes herself as mixed race. She was diagnosed with manic depression in the early 1990s after a lifetime of mental health problems. She has also been diagnosed with cancer. As a child, Mae experienced abuse at the hands of her (white) stepfather and stepbrother. At an approved school Mae was abused by the other girls because of the colour of her skin and in hospital she was told, “You black people are nothing but trouble” and was beaten up and put in a padded cell. When one of Mae's neighbours discovered that Mae had a mental health problem she became very abusive. Mae's family also turned against her. Mae thinks that black families sometimes push family members with a mental health problem away.

Mae could be “high as a kite” one minute and very low the next. Her reckless and erratic behaviour meant people thought she was “mad” and feared her, especially because she is black. When low, Mae would not be able to open the curtains, eat, or be amongst people - sometimes for long periods. When high she would start drinking and could be violent. Mae says her depression got worse over the years and she harmed herself and tried to take her own life many times. 

Mae's life changed when she left her physically abusive husband of 33 years, got her own flat and gave up drinking. She started going to Rethink and meeting people there enabled Mae to reveal her true self and feel less alone. Mae also gets support through a black and ethnic group at Rethink and knows that her support worker is just on the end of a phone. 

Mae originally got a CPN (community psychiatric nurse) only because her husband's social worker recognised that she had mental health needs, but felt that this white CPN could not identify with her ethnic background. Mae currently feels vulnerable having been refused access to a social worker by her mental health team and GP. Mae has not found psychiatrists helpful and would never stay in hospital because she didn't trust anyone. She resisted taking medication in hospital because she didn't want to be a “zombie”. Mae takes her medication willingly now, because she knows it's “the only thing that helps”.

Mae takes an antidepressant (Citalopram) which helps her feel “even”. She has tried Valium (diazepam), Prozac (fluoxetine) and lithium, and sleeping tablets. She also takes pain killers for her arthritis, cod liver oil tablets and an herbal sleeping tablet. She swims and keeps fit, and does needle work to help her relax. Mae's spirituality is important to her, she reads the Bible and she has started studying witchcraft. Mae also eats healthy, organic foods. 

Mae says that she's come through the other side and is glad to be alive. Mae thinks it's important for people to join BME groups and let their voices be heard. Her message for others is, “don't ever give up”.


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