Active Lives, Healthy Minds - End of project conference

Andy Gregg, CEO of Race on the Agenda welcomes participants to our Hardly Hard to Reach: Towards Refugee-Led Mental Health Provision conference. The conference was organised to conclude our three year Active Lives, Healthy Minds project, a refugee-led mental health and wellbeing project in partnership with Account Trust (Nepali community organisation), Network of Eritrean Women UK, Qoys Daryeel – Family Care (Somali community organisation) and Tamil Community Centre and Ilays.

Active Lives, Healthy Minds was a a three year (June 2016-2019) refugee-led mental health and wellbeing project in West London run by Race on the Agenda (ROTA) in partnership with Account Trust (Nepali community organisation), Network of Eritrean Women UK, Qoys Daryeel – Family Care (Somali community organisation), the Tamil Community Centre and Ilays. The project was funded by The National Lottery Community Fund and aims to improve mental health and the wellbeing of members of the Eritrean, Nepalese, Somali and Tamil communities.

On the 27th of June 2019, we concluded our Active Lives, Healthy Minds project, a refugee-led mental health and wellbeing project in partnership with Account Trust (Nepali community organisation), Network of Eritrean Women UK, Qoys Daryeel – Family Care (Somali community organisation) and Tamil Community Centre and Ilays, with an End of Project conference. The three year project has been funded by the National Lottery Community Fund. The conference brought together, refugee and migrant-led community organisations, community members, the voluntary sector and statutory bodies

Under the title, Hardly Hard to Reach: Towards Refugee-Led Mental Health Provision conference, the conference we examined the intersectional impacts of asylum regimes on mental health and wellbeing. The conference emphasised the need for holistic, intersectional, trauma-informed, culturally sensitive and language-based mental health support for people from refugee and migrant backgrounds, designed by and run with refugee and migrant communities. Through taster sessions and breakout sessions the conference shared learning from the projects and activities we co-designed with our partners and their community members, our advocacy with decision-makers, and solutions and networks we developed in partnership over the past three years.

Andy Gregg, our CEO opened the conference. Muna Hassan, Project Officer, Race on the Agenda and Kimberly McIntosh, Senior Policy Officer, Race on the Agenda made a case for refugee-led mental health provision and shared the recommendations and a summary of our upcoming policy report on refugees and mental health. Andreja Mesaric, Research Manager at the McPin Foundation shared the Active Lives, Healthy Minds preliminary project evaluation findings.

In the keynote speech, Selam Kidane, Eritrean Psychotherapist and Activist addressed mental health challenges in refugee communities and barriers for accessing service. Selam also explored the mental health resources and opportunities available to members of refugee communities within their community, looking at the ways in which refugee community organisations can provide a safe environment, use a culturally sensitive approach and integrate a faith-based approach. Selam concluded by suggesting ways in which to bridge the gap between statutory services and the support provided by refugee and migrant-led community organisations. Selam Kidane also guided conference participants to experience the ‘butterfly hug’, a self-administer Bilateral Stimulation (BLS) method to process traumatic material for an individual or for group work.

her keynote speech, Rachel Tribe, Professor Psychology and Social Change, University of East London, argued that mental health services which concentrate only on an individuals’ experience as an asylum seeker or refugee may inadvertently reduce an individual to a part of their life rather than considering the whole lived experience of that person. This reductionist approach may also risk underestimating the strengths and contributions that an individual refugee and their wider community already possesses. Current mental health services may also not be culturally appropriate and/or accessible for some refugees and asylum seekers, may not have been designed with their needs in mind and may carry connotations of stigma or fear for some people. Idioms of distress and explanatory health beliefs may be expressed differently across countries and cultures and this needs active consideration by all concerned.

Haben Ghezai, Clinical Psychologist, Network of Eritrean Women invited conference participants to experience a therapeutic Eritrean coffee session. Participants enjoyed freshly prepared Eritrean coffee. Women coming together to discuss issues of concern over coffee is nothing new in the community, so NEW-UK built on this tradition and added a dimension introducing mental health and wellbeing support into the conversations.

During the breakout session on The Hostile Environment, Immigration Processes and Mental Health Ornella Ospino, Community Activist Coordinator at the Latin American Women’s Rights Service, Monaliza Amanuel, Board Member and Volunteer at the Network of Eritrean Women UK and Kumar Thapa, Coordinator, Account Trust looked at the intricate ways in which refugee and migrant women’s lives and access to support services are impacted by the hostile environment. Speakers discussed how lengthy and complex asylum and migration processes, (threat of) immigration detention, insecure and poor housing, inability to access legal aid and support services impact people’s mental health and wellbeing.

Misak Ohanian, CEO at the Centre for Armenian Information and Advice and Mhairi McGhee, Campaigns and Policy at HEAR shared their experiences of campaigning and lobbying on the Mental Health Equality Campaign during the breakout session on Addressing Intersectional Mental Health Inequalities. The campaign was set up at the start of 2018 in response to mental health inequalities experienced by people from refugee and migrant backgrounds in North West London.

Fatuma Farah, qualified psychotherapist and PhD researcher at the University of East London is joined by the coordinators of our partner organisations on the Active Lives, Healthy Minds project: Rani Nagulandram, Wellbeing Coordinator at the Tamil Community Centre, Marso Abdi, Chair and Volunteer at Family Care, Helen Kidan, Project Coordinator at the Network of Eritrean Women UK and Kumar Thappa, Coordinator at Account Trust. The panel discussed the importance of Refugee-Led, Holistic, culturally sensitive, language-based and Intersectional Mental Health Provision during the panel discussion.

Rani Nagulandram, Wellbeing Coordinator and Co-Founder of the Tamil Community Centre led conference participants in a traditional folk dance class. The class integrates yoga, traditional Bharathanatyam dance and religious music.

Nirmala Rajasingam, Volunteer at the Tamil Community Centre, Rawee Noor, Afrah organisation, Monaliza Amanuel, Board Member and Volunteer at the Network of Eritrean Women-UK and Laurie Lijnders, Project Manager at Race on the Agenda discussed the impact gendered violence, including intimate partner violence, has on family and mental health of refugee and migrant women. Speakers drew on experiences of their community members to explore how women and their children with insecure immigration status are impacted when experiencing domestic and gendered violence.

Muna Hassan, Project Officer, Race on the Agenda, in the breakout session on the Criminalisation of Mental Health set out how mental health discrimination and criminal injustice are two separate phenomena that disproportionately affect Black communities across the UK. The intersection of the two issues has made Black mental health sufferers look like criminals. Institutional racism toward Black people and cultural barriers within Black communities are a few amongst many factors that have resulted in the mistreatment of and inequalities faced by these communities.

Muna Hassan, Project Officer at Race on the Agenda concluded the conference with a very touching piece of spoken word.

Video of the conference will be available soon.

Download the conference report HERE

Download the Summary and Recommendations HERE