Mental Health in the black community

Onyeka Michelle Akpata, 21, London

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Mental health. What comes to mind when I say this?

Negative connotations such as ill, deranged, sick, outcast? Or more positive things like confidence, goal setter and achiever and sociable?

There is often a lot of confusion about what we mean when we talk about mental health. Many people immediately start thinking about mental health problems or mental illness, but this is only one part of the picture. Mental health is important - and we all have it. Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of everyday life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her own community.

We should all actively work towards maintaining our mental health just like we would our physical health. Nearly a quarter of people from African and African-Caribbean backgrounds surveyed by NatCen described their mental health as “bad”. Furthermore, according to a mental health foundation study – young black people are considerably more likely to experience mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

This has to change. And it has to change now.

We can all play our part in this change. We can all look out for one another more. Friend and stranger alike, ask each other how another is doing. It could make a world of difference knowing you are not alone. Be that silver lining in somebody's cloud.

I know what it’s like to feel alone, like no one understands the pain that I’m going through and I dread to think what could have happened to me if I was unable to find a way forward. I would hate for anyone to feel the way that I did and lose all hope. I therefore strive to do all that I can to help someone find a positive solution to the way that they may be feeling so as to realise their true potential and achieve their goals.

I hope with my organisation Excel women of colour to enable young women of colour to have the opportunity to live full, fulfilling and prosperous lives. I am very keen and passionate about inspiring young ambitious black women towards their success as well as their personal growth so that they are able to build a life that they love. I would like to help empower and improve the confidence of young black women through workshops, mentoring and events that focus on improving mental health and self-esteem.

Women are so strong individually, but when we come together, to lift one another up, we can transform the world.

Onyeka is a member of our Young Leaders programme. The Almeida Young Leaders is a scheme giving young people with something vital to say the tools and platform to do so. Each young leader has been mentored by a writer and director to develop their ideas, structuring a speech and skills in public speaking.