Aisha Osman: Modern Mental Health, and Awareness in the BAME Community

Sunetra Senior Thursday 20th September 2018 04:43 EDT

Vocal yet assured, TMS technician Aisha, at mental health clinic, Smart TMS, is the perfect spokesperson for an exciting, new therapeutic treatment that she currently helps administer. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation is a non-invasive approach for treating depression. Unlike older more invasive treatments, TMS uses magnetic fields to stimulate the nerve cells and activate the region of the brain involved in mood control without physical harm and minimal side effects. An electromagnetic coil is placed against the relevant point on the head, painlessly delivering a magnetic pulse that has been proven to improve mood: “it’s such a great feeling to know that you are helping individuals progress,” Aisha told Asian Voice, ahead of Suicide Prevention Day (10th September), “and to see them through their particular journey. People might be a little apprehensive to begin with but with proper communication between patient and doctor, I’ve seen people relax and really get better.”

Of course, what is required for each person coming into the clinic varies, as Aisha made sure to emphasise: “it is important to remember that mental health is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and what might work for one person suffering a particular disorder, whether it is depression or another condition entirely, does not work for the next. It’s important to use your voice, and go at your own pace in the sessions.” Indeed, TMS specifically is only recommended if prescribed medication and talk therapy does not take effect. Osman has training in the latter and holds a MA in Psychiatric Research.


As well as being part of a progressive clinical change, the young campaigner also speaks out on the importance of being socially forward-thinking when it comes to the wider issue of mental health, both within the NHS and across BAME communities. She talked of an interesting overlapping cultural stigma between many minority groups: “I am from an African background, and if someone was suffering a mental health issue, it would be relegated to the spiritual realm. For example, my grandparents believed that if you just prayed, the problem would go away. As a result, I was witness my father’s heart-breaking struggle to give voice to what he was going through. Even today, there is a trend in which men of BAME backgrounds, in particular, find it difficult to seek and accept the required help.” In general, “research suggests that a disproportionate number of people from BME communities suffer from mental health illnesses, but are less likely to speak openly about their worries. NHS figures show that a white person suffering from a mental health issue is twice as likely to seek and receive treatment for their mental health as someone from an Asian or black background.”

Aisha went on to state that “this is not helped by the fact that there are significant language barriers in the mental health service.” She suggested cultivating a better institutional knowledge of the challenges faced by respective cultures to facilitate their ability to approach mental health: “this would encourage otherwise overlooked individuals to utilise the NHS, feeling more secure in seeking treatment.” The mental health specialist has also volunteered in Tanzania to diversify her work in the profession, which further convinced her of the “proactive change” that could be achieved through an intersectional filter. “This includes more nuanced multicultural focus in national campaigns that would help reach more people. It is possible to remain respectful of beliefs but also gradually provide different communities the knowledge to realise that mental health is more complex.”

Thus, by introducing a personal dimension via passionate example, the tireless technician embodies the humanistic angle of which she speaks. “A great way to create change for the better is certainly to have BAME representation in positions of authority in the NHS. I have been able to relate to patients who share my background thus circulating therapy more effectively: I have a better connection to my patients, using my knowledge to familiarise them with the treatments. I’m can do my part so a mental health issue is not left untreated. Leaving an illness to fester can have a severe impact on one’s wellbeing.” With the most competent expertise available then, it is of the utmost importance that we consciously, and collectively, do more to allow the public to accordingly benefit. “The best marker of this,” Aisha finished, “would be BAME individuals successfully seeing through treatment, and speaking proudly on their stories. This would prove to others that they are not isolated, and gives real hope.”

What other social barriers might there for those of BAME backgrounds seeking help?
Financial Barriers: Statistics demonstrate those of minority backgrounds are still earning less, and it can be harder to seek time off work to receive the right help etc.

Do you feel part of the problem of seeking help is that it’s still still hard for the community to see psychological matters as a legitimate medical concern?
Yes, it goes back how people generally perceive mental health: it’s an invisible illness so it’s hard for people across the board to feel compassion. Perhaps they should give more talks to the public, for example in schools, to raise more awareness.

What advice might you give to those wanting to seek help but are feeling discouraged within South-Asian or minority communities?
Gather information so you know what questions to ask, and approach it from the point of view of your culture – if that’s relevant. Keep the right support system around you. Reach out to friends and work colleagues so that you don’t feel alone when dealing with your issue.

What can we do to change the way we view mental health in the Asian community?
 Having better campaigns within the BAME community while increasing diversity in the mental health sector and educating people who deliver these therapies and interventions to the BAME community.

What advice might you give to protect against falling into depression which is unfortunately endemic in western society?
 Keep a healthy lifestyle: eating healthily; exercise; have enjoyable hobbies that motivate you to think more positively; be around people who support you and love you and give you good energy; speak up if you’re feeling really low.

A topical question: an increasing number of people are discussing the issue of narcissism as a huge problem. We do also live in a society that rewards the traits of shallowness and self-absorption that aggravate this. It’s a sort of reverse of stigma where the condition is actually indulged. Do you have comment?
Unfortunately, social media plays a huge part and there’s no cure. It’s caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors. However, there are good treatments available: psychotherapy and CBT. This helps the individual maintain healthy relationships and tolerate criticism and failures without lashing out.

Finally, where do you recommend individuals who are suffering any sort of mental health issue go to seek advice and receive diagnosis?
Don’t go to Google! Talk to a friend or family member as well as your GP to seek professional support and receive a diagnosis.


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