Unmasked Women Panel Discussion on ‘Black British Mental Health’

“Education is the key to ending the stigma around mental health”

The Unmasked Women was an educational exhibition that challenged the absent conversation on ‘Black Women’s Mental Health’. It ran from Friday, 2 September to Sunday, 4 September 2016, organized and curated by Nicole Crentsil @NKrystal.

Unmasked Posters by Nicole Cretnsil

Unmasked Posters by Nicole Cretnsil

“Unmasked Women is an exhibition channeling the Black British female experience through creatives. Our first theme is health and well-being including an in-depth exploration of Black mental health within the UK. In order to spark a much-needed conversation about mental health within the Black British community, we aim to creatively document and showcase the work of several artists whilst creating a safe and open platform for further discussions.” (Unmasked Women)

“We need to start having conversations about people who are unwell

On Saturday 2nd of August, a panel discussion which focused on ‘Black British Mental Health’ took place at the Artworks, Elephant & Castle. Chaired by the organizer and curator herself, Nicole Crentsil; Shades of Noir, represented by Tiffany Webster (Shades of Noir Content Developer), shared the panel with Black Ballad http://www.blackballad.co.uk/  founder Tobi Oredein @IamTobiOredein, Therapist Dawn Estefan @dawnestefan, Founder of Black British Girlhood @BBGirlhood, Recover representative @hellorecovr and a representative for Young Minds @YoungMindsUK.

The space exhibited artwork produced by a variety of black women artists, including  Azzara Amoy, Adama Jalloh @AdamaJalloh, Mica, Erin Corrian, Alexis @ErinCAlexis, please find a full list of artists in references. Alongside handwritten stories and photographs of ‘The Mixed Race Women Experience’.

“Black folk are more likely to be institutionalised/ medicated for mental-health instead of being offered talking therapy”

My experience of representing Shades of Noir were both simultaneously terrifying and humbling; to represent such an important independent programme in the short time that I have been part of the team was an immense privilege and honour.

Nicole Crenstil began the event with a brief introduction on how and why the  ‘Unmasked Women’ project came about. Her research began because she felt like there was insufficient information available on ‘Black Mental Health’ even before looking into ‘Black British Mental Health’. Events on the topic were rare and there are only small amounts of research published on the subject matter. Nicole felt inspired to pursue a project of her own, highlighting this gap and creating this conversation that was long overdue and needed.

“In the mental health institutions, there seems to be a fear of blackness”

The panel was intergenerational, refreshing and inspiring. To have a variety of perspectives, speakers from different organizations and this particular topic of discussion made the conversation incredibly engaging. Different questions directed to us by Nicole, led to vital information, incongruous beliefs and collective opinions being shared on mental health within the British black community.

An example of questions directed to the panel:

  • What does Black Mental Health mean to you?
  • How do barriers faced as a black woman affect mental health?
  • How does Racism affect our mental health?

Our answers, even though personal opinions, were informative, thought-provoking and brutally honest. As the mic would pass from panellist to panellist, it would give us time to reflect and to also respond to each other.

A couple of quotes mentioned  were, “We only have a Eurocentric understanding of mental health” , “Talking about mental health is like storytelling, which is ingrained in our African and Caribbean traditions’’.‘Britain is great at micro-aggressive racism” we mentioned the effects of a Post-Brexit Britain.  “Therapy and medication are not always accessible for all” the impact of this was discussed. We also spoke about the financial barriers within the black community for access to mental health services. “Because of all that black women have been through historically, we don’t trust the medical institutions.”

Questions from the audience directed to the panel:

  • What part does Religion play in black mental health?
  • What advice would we give when speaking to our elders about mental health?
  • What advice would we give to black women seeking help for postnatal depression?
  • How do we (as black people) keep our happy?

Tobi Oredein expressed her opinion on what role Religion played in black mental health: “The church silences mental health issues, you can pray problems away but not without the practicality’’. Leading on to the language we use to talk about mental health with our elders.

“Most of academia uses very colonial language that misrepresents the black experience’’,

“You don’t have to be an academic to express yourself, you can just be somebody with a story’’ was the biggest thought provoking topic, in my opinion, as this was possibly the biggest barrier we have in talking about mental health with the older generation ( most of this is nothing new to them), but how do we bring this up in conversation, if it is already so painful to talk about?

“Protecting your happiness is about recognising your sadness”

Towards the end of the questions from the audience for the panel, they too participated in an interactive question put to the audience ‘What more can we do about helping black women’s mental health?’, which they then had to display on the windows of the space for all to read and discuss during a networking session at the end.

As the Discussion drew to a close the realisation was prevalent that this discussion needed to happen more often and with most importantly, our elders, voicing their stories. This I believe is vital and will be a step forward in the right direction of mental health awareness and healing within the black community.

Let’s continue this conversation. What more do YOU think needs to be done within black women’s mental health?  #unmaskedwomen

Nicole Crenstil, congratulations on a successful and influential exhibition. We Salute You!

Unmasked Women is proudly sponsored by the NUS Women’s campaign @nuswomcam


Further Reading or References mentioned:

Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome by Joy DeGruy  Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing Hardcover – 1 Jan 2005

Artists that exhibited at the Unmasked WomenSpace:

Adama Jalloh @AdamaJalloh_

Azarra Amoy @Thisisazarra

Erin Corrian – Alexis @ErinCAlexis

Gabriela Chase @gabriela_jmc

Heather Agyepong @heatha_a

Juliana Kasumu @lovekasumu

KirzArt @KirzArt

Mica @MicaCamilla

Mikéla Henry-Lowe @mikelahenrylowe

CoolTan Art @cooltan4

Follow Panelists and organizations here:

Tobi Oredein @IamTobiOredein Founder of Black Ballads

Dawn Estefan @dawnestefan

Black British Girlhood @BBGirlhood

Recovr @hellorecovr

Young Minds @YoungMindsUK