By Ash Eloise O’Brien, Communications and Social Media Intern at Migrant Action
Student interns are integral to our team and make a significant contribution to its work. Although their work is mostly remote, it is essential, where possible, that they have a direct experience of Migrant Action’s work by familiarising themselves with migration issues in the field. Recently, we attended a migration multi-agency event in Barnsley, organised by the Migration Partnership Barnsley and co-coordinated by Migrant Action. The multi-agency drop-in provides holistic support for vulnerable migrants in Barnsley. This service fills a vital gap in provisions for vulnerable migrants who exist at the edges of society and struggle to access mainstream services.
Mental Health and Migration
The themes of the event were mental health and community resilience, focusing on how we can best support migrant communities and improve accessibility to mental health services for all.
Each group was tasked with answering some questions on the services in our area, beginning by naming what is available and then discussing the gaps in provisions and the main difficulties found by staff working with migrants struggling with mental health issues.
Some issues in particular stood out to us, for instance, challenges with translation. This includes inconsistency in translators being present to enable migrants to communicate with medical professionals. There were also dialect complications, and issues with the presumption that a client was struggling with English when the issue was mental health-based, such as dementia. Also mentioned was the assumption that migrants who had lived in the UK for an extended period would see their English proficiency improve over time, which we know to be untrue unless migrants are provided with opportunities to study and learn the English language.
Naturally, migrants also struggle with the stigma surrounding mental health, as any person would, as well as the lengthy waiting lists, specific criteria for diagnosis, lack of communication between services, and shortened duration of support with little or no follow-up. Another interesting point was the option to travel home for health services, which for many migrants is cheaper and quicker. Some organisations and health professionals are working to ensure this is no longer the case, as consistent and accessible procedures should be available to migrants in the UK.
Mayor James Michael Stowe of Barnsley attended the event, speaking on the chosen theme for his mayoral year, ‘Inclusive Communities’, which resonates with the overarching theme of the event and Migrant Action’s social and migrant justice aims. He discussed the importance of raising awareness of the opportunities and support the council can offer and highlighting what support projects and initiatives the voluntary, community and charitable sector deliver to support all aspects of inclusivity.
We then heard from two incredible migrant clients, who both struggled with mental health after arriving in the UK and eventually found support through charitable organisations. One migrant originally from Madrid, Spain, spoke about their mental health issues while in Spain and once they moved to the UK. They believe that two of the most important aspects of support are normalisation, creating a destigmatised, safe environment for individuals to speak up about their struggles, and easily accessible support for all, found through counselling or workshop services, which they found to be beneficial. Their key messages were that things are changing for the better, but there is still much more work to be done and that empathy from doctors and service providers is lacking in some places.
The next client, from El Salvador, spoke next, describing their mental health journey in the UK and how the barriers created by various public services were frustrating. Family Lives was able to help them with appointments and medications. However, unfortunately mental health issues can be highly complicated, resulting in the need to trial various methods before finding what truly works. Thankfully, the two clients are both in much better places with their mental health now because of the support provided by remarkable organisations like Family Lives. However, many migrants continue to struggle each day, and it was integral to each discussion held at this event that our collective goal was to leave nobody behind, feeling lost and unable to access help and support.
A central aim of our network is to provide accurate signposting for each client, connecting them with the service they need. As there are often a few different options for those struggling with mental health, it is vital that migrants are accompanied through the process of finding help. A degree of ‘hand-holding’ throughout this journey can ensure that somebody feels safe, secure and protected. Once individuals have made that first huge step in seeking help, a mental health service should provide them with the best expertise and support possible through personalised, sympathetic advocacy. Building trust and confidence between clients and workers is an essential aspect of these services, and ensuring some level of consistency, where we can, throughout the process. Moreover, no client should feel unsatisfied with the duration of support provided at the perceived end of their journey; engaging properly with follow-up processes is as crucial a part as any.
At Migrant Action, we believe that migrant-designed, migrant-led, and migrant-focused services are best equipped to help migrants through mental health difficulties. Lived experience gives workers and volunteers the best chance of truly understanding their struggles and forming client connections. This experience must exist at all levels so that decision-makers are well-informed and can approach issues with understanding and compassion. Awareness is fundamental, as is the adaptability of a service to provide that personalised level of support mentioned previously.
The work carried out by organisations at this event is exceptional, and we found it inspiring to hear from so many passionate individuals who have dedicated their lives to helping those in need. However, as detailed here, there is much work to be done. We look forward to continuing these discussions and connecting with other organisations to come together and provide our best support.