“Shame is so powerful. You need a whole community to tackle it.”
When I sit down to talk with the editors of the newly published anthology The Colour of Madness: Exploring BAME Mental Health in the UK it is soon apparent that Dr Samara Linton and Rianna Walcott are high-achievers. The two school friends managed to pull together this urgent, elegant body of work in just a year despite their busy schedules – Samara was finishing her medical degree, while Rianna was working on a PhD.
Rianna had struggled with mental health difficulties towards the end of her Masters degree, almost losing her PhD place. Part of the struggle was with trying to get the help she needed whilst studying in a predominantly white academic institution, with healthcare professionals unable to see past the “strong black woman” trope:
“Because I was high achieving, they weren’t taking me seriously, when I was actually in a very difficult situation. There is a difficulty of access with most universities, where they have overcrowded mental health services, and that’s been widely documented, but I felt that there was the extra step of trying to get them to believe me. You have to be performative about your mental health; you have to be just well enough to articulate that you need help but also sick enough to get help. So I would do this thing where, when I’m speaking to a white woman, I would deliberately make sure that I cried because the one time I didn’t cry she said, ‘go home, take a bath, you don’t need this’ and kicked me off the service,” she said.
The book is a startling read, mainly because it’s still rare to hear these voices, in their own words and on their own terms. This is something radical psychologist, therapist and blogger Guilaine Kinouani notes in her foreword to the collection: “Have no doubt that the traumas exposed here are collective and that they are intergenerational. Few of us are exempt from being touched.”
Putting these voices centre stage in 2018 should not be groundbreaking, but it is – a point that Rianna and Samara, now a junior doctor working on a psychiatric ward, return to often, with a mixture of surprise and frustration.
That’s how I felt when I read the book. I was startled because I realised that I hadn’t really read anything like it before.