Mental health: ethnic minority experiences

Nelsy - Interview 21

Age at interview: 56
Age at diagnosis: 48

Brief outline: Nelsy, 56, was born in Colombia and has been in the UK for 19 years. Nelsy experienced a nervous breakdown. She believes that illnesses are caused by accumulated anger and "fear of the social pressures for an impossible social equality".

Background: Former teacher, now describes herself as a "natural community builder", married with 1 adult and 1 teenage child. Ethnic background/nationality: Latin American (born in Colombia); in UK for 19 years.

Audio & video

Nelsy helped to write her story.

Nelsy was a teacher for 20 years until she came to this country where she had to clean houses; later she taught Spanish and Latin American dance. Nelsy finished a foundation course in Counselling in 1996, and in 1998 she experienced a nervous breakdown. Terrified of her illness and the social stigma, Nelsy decided to research her mental health. She says that her illness was a result of her anger and fear towards her parents, historical events, God, men, authorities, herself and other individuals. She believes that mistakes she made in the past led to her nervous breakdown. 

Nelsy was also caring for her husband who was retired through ill health, when she describes feeling 'strange' and wanting to run away. Prior to her breakdown, Nelsy had lost some of her ability to concentrate, and wasn't eating or sleeping well. She went to the GP and was prescribed Valium but she was worried about becoming addicted or developing the desire to take stronger medication. The GP also referred her for 6 weeks of counselling, but this left her feeling suicidal. At the time, the only way she could cope with her feelings was by focusing on her responsibility to look after her young daughter. At one point when feeling suicidal, Nelsy went to her GP who called her husband to accompany her to the hospital. She says she was shocked when she found it was a psychiatric hospital and that she was terrified when she acknowledged that she was hearing voices. Nelsy began to look for anything that helped her and she gained confidence when she stopped hearing voices. She joined group therapy and she started working on her anger and fears. Nelsy says she is very pleased with her research but that she still gets anxious and nervous about new things and situations, and gets a nervous stomach, finds it difficult to eat, and picks the skin off her fingers without realising it.  Since her breakdown, Nelsy sometimes finds it difficult to remember things and to read.

For Nelsy, spirituality is about relaxation; she doesn't believe in God or follow a religion. 

Nelsy says no one looks after her, she looks after herself. Nelsy's research has been her own reflection on her life. She has gradually produced a diagram that shows all the things that have played a part in her experiences. Nelsy says she always tries to find something positive out of the negative or painful. For example, since her breakdown, her English has improved, partly as a result of going to group therapy. Before going to therapy Nelsy was not confident in her ability to speak English and had to rely on her English-speaking husband to talk with her GP and psychiatrist.

To keep herself healthy, Nelsy plans her time carefully, seeing different people and doing different things every day. Once a week she goes to a Latin American group; she finds talking to Spanish speaking people helpful. She also has a siesta everyday, eats well, and is learning to grow food on a shared allotment. Nelsy is currently training as a hairdresser. She doesn't want to work for payment, preferring to exchange her skills with other people because she believes that working for money contributes to illness in society. Nelsy considers herself a professional by experience and wants other people to know that there is a way out of mental health and there is help out there.


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