Why a city-wide project is attempting to tackle mental health inequalities in Sheffield

Organisations in Sheffield have come together to work on a new project which attempts to address inequalities in mental health support for people from Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities.

By Lisa Wong
Wednesday, 12th May 2021, 10:22 am

The Tackling Inequalities in Mental Health project is being run in partnership with several groups.

One of the leaders of the project is Space to Breathe, a community interest company which uses the arts, positive psychology and ‘non-religious spirituality’ to support people with their mental health and well-being.

Also taking part are Sheffield Community Forensic Team, which works with people who are currently either in low or medium secure hospitals; Sheffield Flourish, a mental health charity; SADACCA, otherwise known as Sheffield and District African Caribbean Community Association; and Faithstar, a social enterprise which specialises in faith-based management.

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Lisa Thompson-Cox from Sheffield Flourish. Picture: Chris Etchells

The project started in October 2020 and hopes to find out why just under half – 46 per cent – of the Sheffield secure inpatient population are from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic background, despite making up 19.2 per cent of the Sheffield population.

Andy Freeman, co-director and founder of Space to Breathe, said: “It’s an opportunity to raise a flag. We all deserve the same access. We all experience mental health issues at some point in our lives – it’s real life. Help should be available to all.”

He said it was ‘not right’ to be seeing the overrepresentation of people from certain communities in residential settings and this was one example of disparities that exist in regards to mental health support in the city.

Andy believes the project is particularly timely given the disruptions caused by the pandemic.

Co-director and founder of Space to Breathe, Andy Freeman. Picture: Chris Etchells

He said: “With this global pandemic, they say there’ll be a tsunami of mental health issues. It’s very important to care about mental health, for everybody - no community should be left behind.”

Andy explained: “It’s important because if you are not able to access support, the outcomes can be really difficult.”

Housing, relationships, and living in society, are just some of the potential issues that may arise.

Andy told how he has met people who have come out of support and managed to rebuild their lives.

Space to Breathe offers a social cafe and a buddy scheme, which aim to support those with mental health issues. Picture: Chris Etchells

He said: “Everyone deserves the same opportunity. Sometimes we’re told we can’t, there’s a barrier, it’s not communicated in a certain way. Access gives a greater chance of recovery.”

10 to 15 years ago, mental health was arguably harder to talk about and although there has been some improvement, for some people, it is still just as hard to talk.

Andy believes society may be better at talking about some aspects of mental health but there may be lack of conversations when it comes to serious mental health issues, which may be linked to disparities in access to support.

He said: “The more we talk about it, the easier it will be.”

Space to Breathe is a community interest company who have started a new project tackling inequalities in mental health across the city. Picture: Chris Etchells

Andy hopes that in the future, a transition will have been made in which all mental health issues are talked about.

He described the process as a ‘very long road’, but he is hopeful that a ‘team effort’ and ‘trying to be pragmatic’ will make the project a success.

Andy explained: “There are two main things. One, is about raising the profile of inequality in terms of access. Two, is doing, or showing that simple things work, for example, mindfulness for those with intrusive thoughts.”

The ultimate goal of the project is to create a partnership which by working together, encourages social confidence, creates support networks and reduces stigma.

Through the social cafe - aimed at supporting men who leave secure mental health care - and a buddy scheme - aimed at supporting people from Black, Asian or ethnic minority backgrounds - a key aim is to build a person’s confidence.

Andy said: “Building confidence not really talked about. It’s a hard thing to ask for - a vulnerable thing to do.”

There are a number of volunteers acting as ‘buddies’ already and all come from a range of ages and backgrounds.

Andy told how he is ‘really encouraged’ by the uptake so far and the scheme has now attracted interest from outside Sheffield.

Aside from the social cafe and buddy scheme, there are also Wellbeing Zone sessions being run, giving tools which enable a person’s wellbeing to grow as they come to terms with living with their particular mental health challenges.

Space to Breathe, which is based in SADACCA, focuses on giving people tools to help manage their wellbeing, self care, self worth, stress and building resilience to name a few.

It considers the transitional period that patients may face during tribunals or when they are discharged back to a non clinical setting, for example.

He said: “It’s finding a sense of calm so you can handle what life throws at you.”

Andy believes changing one person’s perspective can make a ‘big difference’, and this may in turn help reduce some of the workload currently seen by workers at Sheffield Health and Social Care.

In it’s four years of operation, Space to Breathe has worked with various people, including community workers, teachers and the NHS, to create a ‘diverse set of resources to suit different people’.

As well as trying to create better access to mental health support for people from Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities, it has looked at how those hard of hearing can also be better supported, using visual aids in mindfulness sessions for example.

Andy told how tackling inequalities in mental health was ‘not rocket science’, but showing that people ‘care about them enough’ is key.

He would encourage communities to get in touch if they too wish to tackle mental health inequalities in Sheffield, as connecting and working together has benefits for all.

For more information, visit: spacetobreatheuk.com