There's nothing unusual or shameful about mental illness. Most of us have problems at some time in our lives, such as money worries, stress at work or the death of a loved one, which can affect our mental health. Find out how to recognise the signs and where to go for help.
But people from African and African Caribbean communities, including those of white and black mixed ethnicity, can face additional problems that may affect their mental health.
Everyday life has a big impact on mental health, and black communities in the UK are still more likely than others to experience problems such as bad housing, unemployment, stress and racism, all of which can make people ill.
Kathryn Hill of the Mental Health Foundation says many people don't trust health services. "Lots of people won't use health services until they're very unwell because they're frightened of what will happen. This means they're more likely to be in worse health by the time they do seek help," she says.
Worldwide, it seems that people who move from one country to another have a higher risk of mental illness. This is especially true for black people who move to predominantly white countries, and the risk is even higher for their children.
While mental illness is no more common in Africa or the Caribbean than it is in the UK as a whole, it is a bigger problem for African and African Caribbean communities living in the UK.
That means that looking after your mental health, as well as your family's and friends', is important, so you need to know who to speak to if things go wrong.
Where to go for mental health help
"If you're worried, seek help as soon as possible," says Kathryn. Getting good care early can make a big difference. If you know something's not right, don't pretend that everything is OK. There are many people who can help, but the NHS is usually the best place to start.
The NHS is there for everyone, and its mental health services should meet everyone's needs equally well. They may be able to put you in touch with organisations outside the NHS that can help.
Either way, you're entitled to a service that treats you as an individual, respects your culture and faith, and can help you if English isn't your first language.
Talk to your GP first. GPs aren't just there for your physical health - they also have experience in helping people with mental health problems and can refer you to specialist services.
If you don't have a GP, register with one - find a GP near you. If you need to talk to someone urgently, you can call:
- NHS 111
- SANE: 0845 767 8000 (6pm-11pm, every day)
- Samaritans: 0845 790 9090
Read more about where to go for mental health help.
Protecting your mental health
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) advises that, for mild to moderate depression, exercise can be more effective than antidepressants. GPs can refer you for exercise therapy.
"Exercise, staying healthy and talking therapies can also help with anxiety and more serious mental illness," says Kathryn.
Help from friends and family
If you have a family member or friend with a mental illness, be supportive. Keep in touch with them and make sure they know they can talk to you if they want to.
"Remember that most people with mental illness are not violent," says Kathryn. "Let your friend know you're there, but also keep boundaries." You can't be their counsellor, but let them know you'll help them access the support they need.
There's more information on mental health and wellbeing, as well as how to get help and support, on the following pages:
For more information on supporting a friend with mental illness, see the Mental Health Foundation's leaflet Keeping Us Going (PDF, 736kb).
HealthTalkOnline has interviews and videos of people talking about their experiences of mental health issues - see mental health: minority ethnic experiences.
Article provided by NHS Choices