Mental health: ethnic minority experiences

Sara - Interview 32

Female
Age at interview: 31
Age at diagnosis: 17

Brief outline: Sara, 34, describes herself as Indian and has a diagnosis of depression. Sara's food bingeing was interpreted as psychotic behaviour and she was diagnosed with schizophrenia. In her late twenties, however, a specialist diagnosed an eating disorder.

Background: Mental health worker, single. Ethnic background/nationality: Asian.

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Sara, 34, describes herself as Indian, and has been diagnosed with depression and an eating disorder. She says that her mental health problems began in her childhood when she was experiencing difficulties at home. Although she was a very bright child, she was withdrawn and depressed at school because of the problems in her family. Sara says that her mother was dominating, critical, and paranoid, and used to tell her she was fat and a nasty person and put her on diets. Sara's mother made her lie to the GP about the reasons for her depression. Sara took a paracetamol overdose in her mid teens and as a result was asked to leave her school. She was made a ward of court and although she was forced to see a psychiatrist, a social worker, a court welfare officer, and a psychotherapist, she says she didn't want to talk to them because they were not nice people and her mother had told her she would be put away if she did. Sara felt out of control and began starving, bingeing and self-harming. 

Sara says she didn't fit in at college because she wasn't thin, beautiful, middle class or white. Sara took another overdose whilst at college. Although she excelled in her A-levels, she couldn't face going to university for several years. Sara achieved a first class degree but felt like she didn't deserve it. During this time, she says she was too afraid to tell the doctor how she felt in case she was forced to have treatment, but eventually she did and was diagnosed with depression. 

At one point, Sara reached a dangerously low weight and was very depressed. She began bingeing and stole food. Sara says she was sectioned because her behaviour was interpreted as psychotic' she was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and given antipsychotic medication. Sara believes that if she had been a white middle class woman she would have been diagnosed with an eating disorder, but no one would listen to her; instead she was told she didn't have insight. Sara says the majority of staff on the hospital ward were cruel, although she says she did not encounter any overt racism. Sara says she also found it difficult to relate to a psychologist she saw as an outpatient because she was a thin, beautiful, white, middle class woman. She says that middle class white people look at people's experience from their own perspective and do not understand Asian culture. It was not until Sara was sectioned again that she was referred to a specialist who confirmed that she had an eating disorder and that her symptoms had been wrongly interpreted. Sara says that professionals should listen to their patients.  

Sara has found taking vitamins and amino acids, running and attending a self-help group beneficial. However, she says that doing psychological work, following a healthy diet and exercising is hard work. She has decided not to take antidepressants because she's worried about side-effects and becoming addicted to them.

Sara says that her mental health problems have limited her choices in life and wonders whether she will ever be entirely free of her depression and eating disorder. Sara has now been working part-time in the mental health field for about a year. Sara's advice to people in the mental health system is to get an advocate and to keep fighting.

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