In June 2017 Elena and Jaime from Being met with African community leaders to talk about mental health. The African Mental Health Learning Circle are a group brought together by STARTTS to raise awareness about mental health issues in African communities. We were thrilled to meet with this passionate and dedicated group of leaders about the issues they identified and their visions of positive change for the future.

One of the main things we discussed was stigma around mental health, and how difficult it can be to start conversations about mental illness when it is seen as ‘the end’. As a result, people are less likely to visit services and get the support they need in their community. Investing in education about mental health is a vital part of challenging this stigma.

We also talked about the lack of counsellors and psychologists providing culturally appropriate services, and the importance of training people in trauma-informed care. People who are in need of services must have access to services that understand their culture and the issues they face. This is particularly a challenge in African communities, where people come from 54 different countries and many cultures, but are often treated as a single group.

The group told us about some of the systemic issues facing their community, including difficulty finding stable employment. Workplaces can be spaces of racism, and the stress resulting from this impacts peoples’ mental health. People who have gained their qualifications overseas may have to start again in Australia, leading to frustration and underemployment. It is time we recognised the skills and knowledge people from overseas bring, and welcome them to our community.

Some issues we discussed are common for many people with mental health issues, for example, the challenge of finding safe housing that is not over-crowded. We know that having a secure and comfortable home is a vital part of many peoples’ recovery journeys.

In conclusion, the group told us how frustrating it is when you see the need for change but your voice is not heard by policy-makers. We hope to continue to work together with the community leaders to fight for these changes.