Mental health: ethnic minority experiences

Niabingi - Interview 01

Female
Age at interview: 42
Age at diagnosis: 25

Brief outline: This 42 year old Black, British born woman was diagnosed at the age of 25 with paranoid schizophrenia but disagrees with the paranoid part. She believes that her mental distress was caused by the racism she experienced when growing up.

Background: Active service user; single. Ethnic background/nationality: Black-Caribbean (British born)

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Niabingi began hearing voices at university. She thought it was “telepathy” and a “natural” part of growing up that everyone knew about but kept secret. Niabingi was hospitalised and eventually referred to a specialist mental health hostel for people from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds. Here, she was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia (she disagrees with the paranoid part). 

Niabingi describes hearing voices as like “a song that keeps on coming into your head, no matter what you do”. The voices tell her about life and conspiracies and advise her how to live and what to eat. She sometimes thought she was talking to God and considers her experience to be a spiritual one. Niabingi can't control these voices, and she can always hear them. 

She has tried a range of antipsychotic medications but would prefer to not have to take any medication and considers them to be toxic. They cause a lot of side-effects, such as insomnia, feeling sick, and dribbling. When visiting the Caribbean, she is described as having “the nerves” and given herbs. One year, she replaced the prescribed drugs with homeopathic medicines, and found them to be “just as beneficial” for controlling the voices. She has tried to manage without any medication, but has come to accept that this usually leads the voices to become “more prominent” and “scary”, and she stops eating and caring for herself. She has been hospitalised several times. 

The specialist hostel helped fill a gap in Niabingi's cultural identity by giving lessons about black history and literature. Niabingi believes that her mental distress was caused by the racism she experienced when growing up. Her white middle-class psychiatrists did not ask about her experience of growing up in white Western society and were not open to her trying alternative forms of healing (such as diet, exercise, Caribbean herbs, homeopathy). So, she sought out black mental health professionals. She believes that there should be a space for people of the same culture to meet and share their stories. 

Seventeen years on from her diagnosis, she wants people to know “there is life after being diagnosed”. Niabingi lives in her own flat. She still attends a day centre, and she occasionally does some “user involvement” work. 

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