I have always been interested in people’s overall well-being but developed interest in mental well-being when I was going through the asylum process and lived in a hostel with other asylum seekers. I suffered a mental breakdown during this period and although not confirmed, everyone around me was experiencing some form of mental ill-health. Refugee Action, who was my service provider, offered me an opportunity to access counselling therapy but unfortunately, after only one session my asylum application was decided, and I had to move.
Once settled I volunteered with The Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre where I witnessed asylum seekers, refugees and migrants getting the same relief for their mental health from volunteer counselling therapists. They however, would disengage after two or three sessions. This puzzled but inspired me to enrol for a BSc. degree in Psychology at Warwick University so I could understand human behaviour. I went on further to study International Development Law and Human Rights at the same institution in a bid to understand the asylum/migrant journey and this confirmed my fear of a journey full of trauma. Sadly, on arrival into the UK, asylum seekers, refugees and migrants are met by a hostile environment where they face inequalities across all indicators of economic and social wellbeing. They find it difficult to get employment and if employed are over qualified for their jobs and face discrimination. They live in poorer housing, report poorer health, and have lower levels of academic achievement.
My thesis for my post-graduate course researched reasons why recent immigrant women living in the UK who are experiencing domestic violence do not engage the law and it was at this time when I realised that in the UK, mental health problems are more common among BME communities than they are in the general population, that BME communities are more likely to disengage from mainstream mental health services, encounter mental health services through the criminal justice system rather than referral from GPs and are disproportionately detained under the Mental Health Act. I work for a mental health service provider and truly access to this service by people from BME communities is next to zero.
This inspired me to set up an organisation that would stop mental ill-health in BME communities before it stops them so I approached my colleagues Susie Brennan and Margaret Msimbe who both have a wealth of experience in health and social care, particularly mental health and Inini Initiative Ltd was born.