Friday, 14 September 2012


At the Tower Ballroom, Edgbaston, Birmingham today for a major national conference: "Sikh Mental Health and Wellbeing". This event, the first of its kind, is sponsored by SikhHealth.

Based on national statistics, one in four people in the UK will suffer at least one diagnosable episode of mental illness this year alone. This translates into some 200,000 Sikhs or over 900,000 South Asians from every background. Sadly, cultural practices and Asian value systems and traditions can exacerbate the negative impact of mental illness because of how it is perceived by families, friends, clinicians and sometimes by the service user him/herself. Mental illness stigma, superstitions, taboos and discrimination often result in South Asians not receiving timely or appropriate access to mental health services and tend to come into services in crisis. Disseminating the message to South Asians that mental illness affects all communities  regardless of age, creed, gender, nationality or status  continues to be a huge challenge. The conference has been widely promoted as an opportunity to:
  • Raise awareness and understanding in an open and honest way about South Asian cultures, values and attitudes to mental illness, especially in the Sikh/Punjabi community
  • Explore creative ways of providing intervention such as the Sikh Model of coaching/mentoring
  • To appreciate what NHS based psychological therapies offer and how they can improve accessibility and acceptability
  • Examine new strategies which encourage faith communities to challenge mental illness stigma and discrimination and develop a stronger response at a local, regional and national level
  • Provide a platform at local, regional and national level for professionals, faith leaders, clinicians, service users and carers so that they engage with each other collectively in developing best practice in mental health interventions
  • Increase awareness and understand the role Sikh religious/spiritual beliefs can play in managing mental illness and wellbeing
  • Explore ways of addressing mental health stigma, taboos and prejudice in the Sikh/Punjabi Diaspora as well as providing timely and appropriate access to mental health services
  • Help develop innovative and practical prevention and early intervention responses appropriate to South Asians
  • Take ideas and positive messages about mental illness to our respective communities, family and friends and professional services

This national conference is intended to raise awareness, in an open and honest way, about attitudes to mental illness in the Sikh, Punjabi and South Asian communities. The conference is being held to explore key issues and practical solutions in a bid to create a national prevention and early intervention strategy for addressing mental illness stigma, superstitions, taboos and discrimination within the Sikh, Punjabi and South Asian communities. In addition, collectively utilising the power of faith organisations, professionals, patients, carers and community networks, the conference should send out a clear message to the Sikh, Punjabi and South Asian communities that there is nothing to fear or be ashamed about mental illness because it affects all communities regardless of age, creed, gender, nationality or status. With timely access and appropriate supports available, people can recover completely or can manage the illness and go on to live full and fulfilling lives. Speakers and their topics are as follows:
Sadhu Singh Gill (Chair – Sikh Health & Wellbeing Trust) speaks about the duty of care that faith leaders have in educating themselves about mental illness in order to begin to challenge the stigma and taboo that are know to exist. He also calls upon Gurudwaras and other faith organisations to open their doors to those experiencing mental health problems, often the most vulnerable and isolated members of our communities, so that appropriate resources can be put in place to support and nurture them and their carers.
Dr Panthratan Singh Grewal (Consultant Psychiatrist – Birmingham & Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust) gives a brief introduction to mental illness for the benefit of those in the audience who may be new to the field. He promotes the message that mental illness is common and can affect anyone in any community, at any point in their life regardless of gender, ethnicity, social or cultural background. He gives an overview of the common symptoms and dispels some common misconceptions. He explains that mental illness can often be effectively treated and managed, especially if recognised early and summarises some of the treatment options that are available. He also emphasises how crucial it is that mental health issues are not ignored because with early and appropriate treatment and support, people can recover and go on to live full and fulfilling lives within their family and community.
Simran Kaur Khinder (Diverse Cultures Community Support Team Manager and Approved Mental Health Professional – South Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust) presents a powerful case study with the aim of exploring the interplay between the complex and often ingrained cultural practice of izzat (protecting family honour) and the lack of appropriate care after unfortunate circumstances that can result in intense long term psychological distress. The audience is invited to consider to what extent issues such as the fear of losing honour within families and the community act as an obstacle to seeking appropriate help when someone has been the victim of abuse and/or violence. She explores how we could better facilitate and manage seeking help in such situations.
Sachdev Singh Seyan (Justice of the Peace, Senior Community Engagement Worker – Hertfordshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust) explains the concept of izzat, exploring how stigma begins and becomes established. He explores the often devastating impact of mental illness that is further impacted upon by stigma, superstition and the taboos that prevail within the Sikh, Punjabi and South Asian communities. He also highlights how the Eurocentric model of psychiatrically based mental health services needs to change in order to appreciate and incorporate race, culture, faith and spiritual factors into their formulation of mental health difficulties. He explains the need for professionals to become better informed about the terminology including the different cultural metaphors that are used to describe mental illness and psychological distress.
Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh (Chair – Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha) urges the Sikh community to take the lead in addressing mental health issues and the stigma related to seeking help from mental health services. Referencing the Sikh scripture, he speaks about the rich spiritual and worldly guidance that Sikhism itself provides in terms of looking after our own health and wellbeing as well as that of others, be it in the family or the community.
Peter Gilbert (Emeritus Professor of Social Work and Spirituality – Staffordshire University and Project Lead for the National Spirituality and Mental Health Project) speaks about spirituality and mental wellbeing ith reference to his own life experience. He explains the importance of understanding and utilizing spirituality and religion by the person coping with mental illness, their family and carers. In relation to the long-established secular “scientific” position still held by mental health services, he suggests an alternative holistic and person-centred approach to recovery, based on spirituality.
Gisela Stuart MP (Labour: Birmingham and Edgbaston) welcomes attendees and contributors, emphasising that mental health issues transcend party politics.
Avneet Kaur Chana reads her poem, "Bipolar Me". Avneet appeared on Channel 4's when it addressed the topic, "Is faith a remedy for depression?"
Kamel Kaur Chahal (Senior Chartered Clinical Psychologist – South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, former Chair of Race and Culture Faculty – Division of Clinical Psychology) explains the role of psychology within NHS-based mental health services and what talking therapies consist of, what they can provide and where and how they can be accessed. She also talks about why there is a need for collaborative partnerships to be established between psychology and mental health services and the Sikh, Punjabi and South Asian communities with regard to actively developing a bio-psycho-social-spiritual approach. This could help adapt both the content and the provision of talking therapies to ensure that they are more meaningful and effective to and for these communities.
Inderjit Singh Bhogal (Wellbeing Leadership Coach and Director – Sikh Aid International) speaks about developing listening therapies and advocates that the art of listening impartially is fundamental to facilitating self-awareness that can lead to good health and wellbeing. By referencing Gurumukhi (the language of the Sikh Gurus which is similar to Punjabi) he puts forward a Sikh Model of Coaching (whose distinctions and metaphors are derived from the Sikh Scripture) as a creative solution to stress-related issues for individuals and their families. He suggests that the Sikh Model of coaching also helps to bridge the often-observed linguistic, cultural and metaphorical gaps between the world of the elders and that of younger members of the community - and between the medical profession and patients.
Lakvir Rellon (Director of Community Engagement and Partnerships – Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust) provides a professional reflection about stigma and mental health issues. By referencing service user stories she illustrates how stigma can impact on the rate of recovery, how support can be offered to families and how we can tackle stigma in our communities, thereby aiding people in recovery.
Swaran Preet Singh (Head of Division – Mental Health and Wellbeing, University of Warwick Medical School) speaks about the social context, precursors and consequences of mental illness and explores the broader sociocultural, political and economic forces that affect our mental health as well as the impact that mental illness has on wellbeing. He focuses on recent advances in psychiatric care such as early intervention which have begun to improve the chances of young people recovering from mental illness and returning to a normal developmental trajectory. He shares recent research evidence on how sociocultural factors can help (or sometimes hinder) recovery from mental illness in South Asian communities. He also offers practical examples of how mental health services should adapt to meet the particular needs of Sikh, Punjabi and South Asian communities, and how communities can better engage with local NHS services.
Neil Deuchar (Associate Medical Director – NHS Midlands and East, Commissioning Lead - Royal College of Psychiatrists, Co-Chair – Joint Commissioning Panel for Mental Health) speaks about developments in commissioning for mental health and in particular, the introduction of a national Joint Commissioning Panel for Mental Health. He will also talk about activities related to designing better commissioning for mental health serves across the Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities and the learning about diversity within Health and Wellbeing Board strategies.
Harjinder Singh Bahra (Barrister and Executive Director – Sikh Health and Wellbeing Trust) speaks about why SikhHealth has been created and describes its mission, vision and values. He outlines some of the programmes being developed by SikhHealth and puts forward ideas of how we can collectively utilise the power and influence within faith-based communities. He invites organisations, professionals, service users, patients, carers and community networks to create collaborative partnerships in order to develop a grassroots strategy of prevention and early intervention for the Sikh, Punjabi and South Asian communities in relation to mental and physical health and wellbeing.
Patrick Geoghegan (Chief Executive – South Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust) highlights the key messages from the conference and speaks about the new possibilities of service providers working in partnership with faith leaders and faith organisations. The aim of these collaborative partnerships would be to more effectively address the key health and wellbeing issues within the Sikh, Punjabi and South Asian communities.

There's a fascinating variety of stalls and displays ringing the auditorium, among them:

This is another one of those occasions when I feel privileged to be doing this job. I'm witness to what I feel is something special here – a community baring its soul. One of the speakers (Kamel Kaur Chahal) talked in her presentation about "community therapy", something akin to family therapy, but on a qider scale. That's surely what's taking place here today. It's brave of the Sikh community as a whole to do this in public. I'm sorry that I'm the only person from Leicester present to witness it.

Sadly, I'm unable to stay for the evening's entertainment, a jazz performance by INDI and His Unconventional Crooners (aka "The Sikh Sinatra" – photo below). Now that I would have liked to see!

1 comment:

  1. George a great blog and super coverage. Not to worry a similar Road Show is being planned for Leicester next year and we will keep in touch to get you involved mate. All the best Harjinder (SikhHealth)