Book Review: The Colour of Madness: Exploring BAME mental health in the UK

Book Review: The Colour of Madness: Exploring BAME mental health in the UK

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Genres: Anthology, Art

Themes: Racism, Culture, Mental Health

Rating: 5 stars 

“Two birds, both one and the same

One flies high over tree tops, wings spread caressing the clouds.

The other, caged with clipped wings, sings, weeping tears of joy at

the promise of its future.”

– Little Birds Hope by Caroline 

The Colour of Madness is an incredible anthology of poems, short stories, memoirs and artwork, created by 58 individuals from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities. Together, they have provided an honest and unique portrayal of how BAME communities within the UK experience mental health.

From the age of 13 or 14, I started to develop an interest in psychology and it wasn’t long before I decided that it was a field I wanted to study and have a career in. Over time, I developed specific interests which turned into topics I deeply cared about, one being the experience of mental health for ethnic minorities. So when I first spotted this book, I knew immediately that it was something I just had to read. And what I did read, and see within The Colour of Madness was eye opening, relatable, thought provoking, and stirring. There’s such a variety of experiences covered in this book that it’s not simply “this is how x community experiences mental health,” instead it takes into consideration a whole spectrum of experiences for example, readers get to experience a mental health unit from the perspectives of: a man who’s the only Asian patient on the ward, a black clinician wonders  if she’s really making a difference for all the sectioned patients who look just like her, a young son visiting his mum who is happy at finally being able to spot a brown nurse… there’s just so many different levels to how mental health is experienced and so I think many will be able to learn so much, and gain a more holistic view of how mental health impacts BAME communities. But also, it meant a lot being able to relate to what I was reading, direct or indirectly.

For example, as someone of Afro-Caribbean heritage, there were a few pieces that I was really able to resonate with. One of those pieces was  On Becoming a Psychologist by Cassie Addai. As a young black woman who aspires to become a psychologist, I can’t tell you how excited I was when I first read the title of this piece. And I can’t tell you how in awe I felt when I finished it, so full of hope and empowerment. It’s such an amazing feeling, being able to relate so closely to someone else’s story because this is something that doesn’t happen very often. If this short essay made me feel this way, what might the other 50+ pieces do for others who too can relate to the experiences of mental health shared? There’s so much power in just being able to relate to something, to see your life and experiences being mirrored. Because the reality is, is that ethnic minorities aren’t represented on a number of platforms. We live in a society where the voices of ethnic minorities aren’t listened to, and it’s been like this for many many years and so it means everything to have this book which is a space for BAME voices to be heard.

“I’m not resilient, I’m told

Because it hurts me when they tear me down

With their eyes, words

And bitter judgement

I am at fault, I’m told

because I am not like them

My hurt and my pain is pathologised

Because I am other,

because I am a stranger,

because I am brown,

And I won’t bend.”

– Resolute by Nisha Damji 

I had many favourites from The Colour of Madness but one that really stuck with me was God Forbid by Tarek Younis. It’s about university student Ahmed, who is about to have his first session with a therapist called Dr Brown. In the appointment, Ahmed talks a lot about his religion; he believes that he’s upset God because of an addiction he has. Towards the end of the appointment, something interesting happens- Dr Brown experiences an apparition of Ahmed. This ghost-like double was mocking and spoke of how it will be the one to stop Ahmed’s suffering and find a way into heaven for him. Dr Brown was frightened of this apparition which is understandable but what’s not understandable, was how he tried to rationalise the experience. I don’t know if this was what the author had intended, but I interpreted the apparition as a manifestation of Dr Brown’s own bias, fears, and prejudices towards Muslims. The manifestation of all these negative thoughts and emotions is what lead to Dr Brown concluding that “Ahmed presented potential  significant psychological vulnerability to radicalisation.” Ahmed was just really struggling with his mental health, and he was desperate to be helped. Are Muslims not allowed to present in this way without being seen as a risk to everyone else? When will the individual’s struggles be placed before the worries and biases of everyone else? Will the minority ever truly be understood, and treated in the same way as the majority?

The Colour of Madness will prompt you to think about and question the current state of our world, and it will encourage you to have discussions around a really important topic. Reading this anthology has really been a fantastic experience! I’m also also lucky to have had the opportunity to attend an event hosted by Waterstones, where contributors of the anthology spoke about their work, and engaged in a wider discussion about mental health and BAME communities.  It was really valuable being able to hear people’s thoughts and suggestions, but also it’s really nice to know that conversations like these are taking place… people do care, and people are trying to make a difference.

And so I cannot emphasise enough, just how important it is to read books like The Colour of Madness.  I really do feel so much passion towards projects like these because the voices of ethnic minorities within Britain deserve to be heard, especially when our systems and services aren’t always in favour of these specific groups. Please open your mind and your heart to this collection of work; equipping ourselves with knowledge will allow us to move forward and start to make a positive change.

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