Mental health: ethnic minority experiences

Patricia - Interview 16

Female
Age at interview: 25
Age at diagnosis: 23

Brief outline: Patricia, 25, describes herself as White European. She was born in Portugal and came to the UK to work and has been here for 9 months. For the past five years, Patricia has felt anxious every day and experienced numerous panic attacks.

Background: Research and development assistant, single. Ethnic background/nationality: White European (born in Portugal); in UK for 9 months.

Audio & video

Patricia, 25, describes herself as White European. She was born in Portugal and came to the UK to work and has been here for 9 months. For the past five years, Patricia has felt anxious every day and experienced numerous panic attacks. 

She says that she began feeling anxious, unable to breathe, like she was going to die and having panic attacks following the sudden death of her friend. Her mum who took her to the doctors and Patricia was told there was nothing wrong. A year later, she had a very strong panic attack and saw the doctor again. He prescribed medication which she then took every day for 4 years. Patricia says this medication was highly addictive and made her feel like a drug addict; she was also worried about the long term effects. 

On one occasion Patricia went to the hospital emergency department because she thought she was having a heart attack but was given some tests and told she was having a panic attack. When she moved to the UK she thought her anxiety would disappear and didn't have any panic attacks until her workload increased and she found it difficult to sleep. 

Patricia describes her anxiety as feeling like you have an exam every day. She says it's as though her body is constantly in an alert state and she interprets what's happening in her body as signs that something is wrong. She constantly has sweaty palms and a dry mouth, and worries about death and what will happen when she dies. These symptoms are exaggerated when she has a panic attack. Her panic attacks usually happen in the evening and can last for hours, even if she takes medication. As a result of her anxiety and panic attacks, Patricia has developed a phobia about going to bed, and can't go to pubs or music festivals. Sleepless nights affect her ability to work the next day and sometimes she feels depressed. Patricia doesn't tell people about her panic attacks because they don't understand and are dismissive of it.

Patricia finds it helps to keeps herself busy - unless she has too much to do which can trigger the attacks. She also avoids coffee, alcohol, people smoking around her, TV programmes, films and news items that might upset her, being a passenger in a car, and she has to plan her day so as to avoid surprises. When she goes to bed she watches a DVD and burns aromatherapy oils to help her fall asleep. Patricia also finds it comforting to read the stories of other people who have had similar experiences. She says she believes these people when they say she'll be fine, because they've experienced the same thing, unlike the doctors she has seen. Other strategies she uses are drinking camomile tea, telling herself it's just her body over-reacting and doing breathing exercises. Patricia also got help from a national support group. She doesn't believe that she will recover, but has come to terms with that.

Patricia doesn't think there is much difference between Portugal and England because they are both Western societies and she has not experienced any discrimination. She says it has helped because she can speak fluent English, especially when it comes to describing her panic attacks.

After her interview, Patricia went to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

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