Providing essential support to the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities

In conversation with Bristol Epigram’s The Croft magazine, Director of Nilaari, Jean Smith elucidated on the meaning of the charity’s name, “to have self-worth and value’. Originally beginning it’s journey to serve the community as a drugs and alcohol service, Nilaari soon expanded their vision and decided to dig down to the roots that the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic peoples in their care were experiencing.

Now, with over 20 years of delivering award winning support to their community they are truly a beacon of hope and proof that tackling change from the ground up by: supporting those with reoffending behaviour, mental health problems and problematic substance use is an essential element in helping people achieve happier, and healthier lives.

As we have discussed in previous articles on the Sewell Race Report, and our recent piece on the Mental Health Act Reforms, Black people are 8 times more likely to be subjected to community treatment orders and 4 times more likely to be detained (sectioned) than white people.

In our analysis of the Sewell Race Report we spoke to Dr Dwight Turner from the UK Council of Psychotherapists who commented that the report “tried again to shoehorn cultural differences for black patients into a mental health system which was not designed for them, thereby ignoring the mental health needs of a disparate, and diverse population.”

This is where the work of charities such as Nilaari really prove their immeasurable worth

Jean Smith in her conversation with The Croft, emphasised that Nilaari’s unique value lies in it’s diverse team “that delivers culturally appropriate treatment”. On this topic, Maxine Barclay, member of Steppin Sistas – a Bristol walking and wellbeing group for women of Caribbean and African heritage – said Nilaari were of great help after her husband, mum and brother-in-law passed away last year.

Ms Barclay said to the BBC, “It’s really important to be able to talk to someone that looks like you. It makes you feel more open…They really helped me work through everything – I just want other black and brown people to feel like they can open up about their mental health…and be able to get the same help I did.”

Another member of the walking group, Marie Henderson spoke on the life changing experience of receiving support from Nilaari. Ms Henderson specifically mentioned how other mental health services simply didn’t have the capacity to understand her own experiences with mental health as a Black woman, from a “cultural perspective”, echoing the sentiments of Nilaari’s own director on the charity’s diverse team Ms Henderson said “They understood where I was coming from straight away.”

Starting with the system

One of the most impressive aspects to Nilaari’s dedicated community work is their efforts to reform and work with the criminal justice system. Jean Smith commented that through their work they noted that those with a history of offending behaviour experienced life as a “revolving door” constantly moving between prison and probation without ever truly identifying or engaging with the root cause of the problem.

Speaking on their work with Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic men in the area, Jean identified how helping individuals to understand the mind, manage anger effectively and have a greater understanding of relationships they can “break the cycle”.

Covid-19, has, as with many by and for organisations and charities, proved to hinder much of it’s most important work. Jean spoke about how remote/virtual support meant staff had to work “doubly hard” to ensure the same kind of trust and connection was being built.

Discussing ways to move forward in how our society can provide better and more effective wellbeing support to Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people – especially in light of the impact from the pandemic and the traumatising and triggering police brutality seen last year will have had, Jean said “It is absolutely essential that…there is a culturally appropriate alternative”.

Recently, Steppin Sistas, the Bristol walking and wellbeing group has announced that they will be partaking in a series of walks from the first of September to the end of the month to raise funds for Nilaari to support and honour the important work the charity does for their community.

You can find out more about Nilaari, here. And more about Steppin Sistas and their September walking incentive via their Twitter or get in touch on Instagram.