for better mental health

Being a BAME health worker in the pandemic has taken its toll

Thursday, 25 June 2020 Vivienne

Vivienne blogs about how her mental health has been affected by lockdown, Black Lives Matter and being a frontline mental health worker

I have had mental health problems for many years but it’s fair to say the last few months have made me struggle more than I ever imagined. I have felt overwhelmed with stress, depression and anxiety.

Lockdown in itself has been tough. At the start of lockdown my mum couldn’t work so we were worried about paying the rent, but fortunately the council allowed us to delay payment. I normally live at home with my mum and siblings, but my job put me in danger of contracting the virus, so I had to move away to keep them safe. Without my usual support and regular routine, I really struggled. On top of my day job I am also a university student and a musician. Dealing with changes to those aspects of my life was also hard while, like everyone else, feeling isolated and not being able to see family and friends.

I’m a frontline worker for the NHS, working in mental health services. At the start of lockdown I was working on an in-patient mental health ward so the stress of doing that and being at risk of catching coronavirus was hard. I was meant to move jobs earlier this year, but I delayed it because of covid as half of our team was off sick and it didn’t feel right to leave while the ward was so short of staff. Finally four weeks ago I moved role, to an assistant psychologist in a community-based team. The first few weeks have been stressful and frustrating – there is not much we can do while everything is closed, and it’s difficult to get to grips and meet a new team in these circumstances. 

Then we started to get reports saying that Black, Asian and other minority ethnic communities were being affected more severely by the pandemic. So I am not only a frontline worker at higher risk of getting the virus, but as a Black woman I am more likely to die from it. We’ve lost loved ones during this pandemic and we’ve lost patients; it’s not far removed, these aren’t stories to me, I know people who have died. You think it won’t happen to you, but it can and it’s scary. 

I started feeling the effects – grinding my teeth, my chest was tight and I felt I couldn’t breathe

I had a lot of stress in a short period and no time to feel it or process it while working 12-hour shifts. I started feeling the effects in my body – grinding my teeth a lot, my chest was tight and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. But I didn’t feel I could stop, I had to keep working, so I just kept going.

Then George Floyd was killed. It hurt a lot having the video circulating, seeing those images

Then George Floyd was killed. It hurt a lot having the video circulating, seeing those images. Seeing how selectively people use race and understand disadvantages. People can understand trauma and disadvantages, but when they start talking about Black or Asian people there is no regard for how it can affect you. As a Black woman I have faced racial slurs, negative stereotypes about my behaviour, personality and sexuality and all the underlying microaggressions we deal with in silence. That is without mentioning the economically disadvantages and the lack of educational support for my learning disabilities during my childhood/teenage years. Inequality is a form of racism and we need to be aware of this. This pandemic might be happening to us all, but it’s not affecting us equally.

In the end it got too much and I had to take a few days off work. It was my employer’s suggestion to take time off – my new team seem really supportive and understanding – and I have also been able to move back home, which helps. And I’ve drawn on all my coping mechanisms – exercised, meditated, got out into green spaces when I can. And I’ve been staying in contact with friends over the phone and through video calls.

Britain needs to stop pretending that Covid is an equal opportunities killer and stop being coy about race

Being at home, and in a new job with a regular routine, and seeing lockdown restrictions reduce have all helped my mental health improve. But I am still worried. Increased risk for BAME people is something that continues to worry me – as it should worry the whole country. Britain needs to stop pretending that Covid is an equal opportunities killer and stop being coy about race.

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