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29 August 2014

Getting to the heart of the matter

Bristol staff went on a cultural tour to get to the heart of the mental health needs of the city's diverse communities.

This was a key strand of a programme to create a positive culture in the new model of community services in Bristol and ensure people are treated as individuals regardless of background, disability, gender, age or any other reason.

Staff with a key role in carrying out equality impact assessments for the new services went on the tour of religious centres including a Hindu temple, a mosque and a Sikh temple and met people from the Somali and Irish Traveller communities.

It was a chance to get a grassroots perspective on what mental health and wellbeing means for those communities and to hear how barriers could be overcome. For example, the group heard how in some groups the very idea of mental illness is taboo, which creates enormous challenges for people whose health needs might not be recognised by their communities.
Service manager Steve Batson highlighted common understanding of what mental illness means as a main learning point of the day.

"There's a massive gap between how some groups perceive their needs and how they might access services," says Steve.

"So for example someone might go to see their GP with what they see as a physical problem like headaches, but behind it there is a mental health need. So a barrier is the lack of a common terminology.

"A large proportion of people have also come here having suffered some kind of trauma which culturally they feel they ought to just put up with and get on with life - but there's a problem there that's never been dealt with and that can stand in the way of someone's recovery."

Team manager Scott Witherstone said the day was the best piece of diversity training he has ever been on - high praise indeed.

"It was a brilliant introduction to the diverse communities of Bristol and it opened my eyes to the needs of so many groups," says Scott.

"There is nothing like getting out and making contact with people, so to be able to visit all those religious and community centres and talk to people face-to-face was just so valuable in helping to appreciate their needs better.

"In particular, I was really moved by the barriers to healthcare faced by Irish Travellers and the challenges they go through on a daily basis."

The programme was put together by SARI (Stand Against Racism and Inequality). Participants included staff from AWP, Second Step and Knowle West Health Park.

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