Main photo: Mayor Patricia Logue opening this morning’s conference in Derry’s Guildhall. Photo source: Unison
THE mental health needs of black and migrant workers were front and centre of a unique conference held in Derry this morning.
The event titled ‘Black and Migrant Workers’ Mental Health – Removing the Stigma’ was organised by Unison. The trade union estimates that it has 185,000 black members, many of whom work in the education and social care sectors.
The challenges they face are often stark.
According to Unison 29 per-cent of black Caribbean employees reported feeling that they have been overlooked for promotion because of their ethnicity.
Thirty per-cent of those from a black background reported experiencing or witnessing racial harassment or bullying from managers in the last five years.
And the ethnicity pay gap figure sits at eight per-cent less for black Africans, on average, then their white British counterparts.
Today’s conference was opened by Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Councillor Patricia Logue.
Mayor Logue said it was vital that in Derry and district, black and migrant workers have access to the full library of mental health services that are available.
“Mental health does not know race or ethnicity so let us ensure that our black and migrant workers receive the support they deserve,” said Councillor Logue.
Keynote speaker Professor Siobhán O’Neill, Northern Ireland’s Mental Health Champion, was welcomed to the podium by Unison NI’s Regional Secretary Patricia McKeown.
Professor O’Neill said the chances of someone of a black or minority ethnic background suffering from poor mental health was considerably higher than the rest of the local working population.
Loneliness, depression, addiction and suicidal thoughts were all factors put forward during a recent survey, she added.
Also on the panel was Dr Mukesh Chugh, a Consultant Anaesthetist working in the Western Trust. Alongside him were Lekan Abasi of the Counselling All Nations Service, Israel Eguaogie of Belfast City of Sanctuary and Beverly Simpson of Unison’s Black and Migrant Workers Group.
Ms Simpson, who co-ordinated the event, told of leaving her native Guyana in 2005 and how she struggled to settle in Derry.
“It is a big trauma, moving from one area to another, uprooting everything and starting again in a completely new society.”
Nurse Simpson told those gathered that it took courage to admit to having mental health problems. That stigma needs to be banished, she added.
“When you wake in the morning and go to work, remember to be kind. You never know what a person is going through and you could be the difference between that person dying or staying alive.
“This is just the beginning of the awareness, not just here in Northern Ireland but across the UK as Unison takes it on board and goes on from here.”