Chai & Chat – breaking the stigma of mental illness one cup at a time…

The NHS is in crisis and mental health services are losing out in funding.

1 in 4 people suffer with a mental illness such as depression or anxiety and this is putting pressure on health services at a time where resources are becoming more limited.  I believe we can reduce this burden on the NHS by empowering communities to support each other to keep our minds healthy.

During my psychiatry rotation, I gained a first hand insight into the daily challenges faced by patients and service providers in trying to optimize care.  It can be a struggle to reach those who are vulnerable and get support to those who need it most. I would often see patients who were suffering from debilitating depression in a state of deep hopelessness where they would be highly unmotivated and non-compliant with treatment. However, I found that talking therapies and mindfulness-based initiatives produced sustainably positive shifts in improving mood and anxiety levels.

Over the past few months, I have been exploring creative ways in which we can break the stigma surrounding mental illness within the Asian community.  Through the “Meducasian” project we have set up small local “Chai & Chat” sessions to start a conversation in fun, social and interactive way.  The sessions challenge the preconceptions surrounding mental illness that inhibit so many people from talking openly about their symptoms and lead to strong feelings of guilt and shame.

Tea is the globally recognised mediator of conversation and we often say, “lets catch up over a cup of tea or coffee”. It is a symbol of friendship and gives you that warm fuzzy feeling from the inside with every sip. The idea behind the Chai & Chat sessions is to have informal, interactive discussions exploring ideas around mental illness with a hot cup of masala chai being the instigator of conversation. The first step towards shattering the stigma of mental illness is to start talking about it openly in a safe, friendly, supportive environment. For those of you who aren’t fans of tea, don’t worry we have plenty of coffee and herbal alternatives!

We have held 2 events so far in the West Midlands and the discussions have led to important insights into what people assume mental illness is and what are the cultural barriers to talking about it.  The energy was positive at each event, with active engagement and people courageously sharing their own personal stories. We have highlighted a need to talk more about postnatal depression, supporting men to talk about depression and practical ways of dealing with unemployment. We also identified a need to have smaller group sessions with elderly members of the community.

It might be difficult for a person who is severely depressed to seek support but we hope these sessions may be able to reach families and friends of vulnerable individuals and show that there is support out there and they no longer need to suffer in silence.

I am interested in how we can incorporate music, film and art to empower people to take better ownership of their mental health and raise awareness of preventative strategies. We are continuing to hold the Chai & Chat sessions and will be recording video interviews to share on social media. I believe that we can create a support network to act as that comforting familiar hand to hold reaching out through a smartphone or laptop screen and bringing someone out of depression and even preventing suicide.

Follow Meducasian on Facebook and look out for a Chai & Chat session in your local area!


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