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It’s not easy for anyone to find their voice when talking about their own experiences with mental health or mind health as I like to call it, but when you come from an already very marginalised and often excluded group the journey to seek help and getting well can be much harder. I am Romany and proud.

 In our everyday lives Gypsy, Roma Traveller Communities over many years have faced persecution and discrimination therefore our world is often closed off from the rest of society for our own protection. Many of us choose not to seek the help of an outside organisation for fear of further discrimination and lack of understanding of our culture.

 There is also a fear of what information is shared about us and if it will be used against us to hinder rather than help. There is a real and valid concern about medication and being overmedicated, also stigma and how talking about our mind health could affect our children by people in authority getting social services involved where it is not necessary which has happened in our community before.

For me, becoming a community champion has allowed me to talk about my own experiences and to help organisations understand some of the challenges we face when trying to seek help.  The biggest challenge is being able to trust and feel safe.

Being a mental health champion, I can talk about my mind health with others who have lived experiences of their own and we don’t have to feel alone.

We can also put our experiences to good use to help others and make things a little less daunting for them. 

As a writer from the Romany Community, I was able to write a drama called “lost inside my mind” It helped to raise much needed awareness for GRT communities, and it told of some of the concerns we face if we did try to seek help. 

The play has helped to open minds and open doors to a new way of thinking as organisations have listened and are now working with us in Surrey to try and get it right for our communities.  As scary as it can be it is only by using our voices and lived experience that collectively we can make the difference.

Cultural training is a must have for any organisation for getting a better understanding of the needs of GRT communities.

Undertaking cultural training will give organisations helpful information and knowledge, giving them a better understanding of our communities, therefore can act upon the needs of the community and this is a positive move forward.

Together we can build trusted partnerships, get people talking and help to save lives and then one day others can use their voices for change too, let’s end stigma together! 

In the next part of the article Dee talks about how grief affected her mental health

His wings were ready, my MIND was not 

Nothing had prepared me for grief. I knew he wasn’t getting well.
He fought to stay, and we willed him to live.
On the 10th of September, we said our last I love you! 
The coming weeks were busy, there wasn’t time to think, we just had to get things done. 
My mind was occupied, with what he would wear, what music should be played, and writing an inspirational speech, that would do him justice. 
He was a gentleman, My Dad. One that would help anyone and loved us all very deeply. The sort of Father, that could make everything better. A protector of Mind and Spirit, who’s big heart could cure any heartache. He had taught me so much in life, except how to live without him. 
As the months passed, I took his role, I looked after mum and the rest of the family, keeping them going as best I could. Still running the local community group and trying to hang on to a life we had known. 
Then one day, just like switching on a light! Mine went off! 
I just Stopped! 
I closed the doors to the group, and I never went back! 
I turned off my mobile phone. I could not cope with the ringing! 
I couldn’t talk, I had nothing to say! 
I could not watch the telly. It was all too painful. 
I sat in the darkness.
I didn’t want to eat. 
I didn’t want to die.
But I had forgotten how to live. 
Grief consumed me, it took over my every thought. It filled my mind, and my heart was broken. 
How would I go on? How would I stop the pain?
Everything felt pointless, meaningless, and as the days, months and years started to roll by, I began to feel like, I was a burden, that maybe everyone would be better off with out me! 
I missed him so much, the love he had given, had gone! 
What would he do? What would he say?
He had written me a letter, it said, it’s ok to grieve for a while. 
But then life must go on! 
You must find your way back from this. 
Love will bring you back! 
I had counted the seasons for so long, Watching from the window. 
I had seen Snow fall, the blossoms of spring, Sunflowers burst out and reach way above the hedges.  Fledglings learning to fly for the first time.
I saw trees change from green to orange, and leaves fall to the ground, only to change again to a healthy green the following season. They all bounced back with vigour. 
Today I would plant some seeds. 
I took to my garden and chucked all the seeds I could find and when they began to appear, I wanted more! 
I began to plant roses, my dad loved roses, as the blooms unfolded, so did I.
I was receptive again, to the love that surrounded me, to the family that missed me, to the friends who thought I had disappeared. 
With each bloom, and each changing season I found my way back. 
When I started to let people back in, they brought me seeds and plants, and I created a garden, for us all to sit in a share, one that reminds me, that there is something good in everyday, if only we remember to let love in. 

“To plant a garden, is to believe in tomorrow”

Love Dee.