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  1. ITV Report

Reaching out to tackle mental ill health

Art is helping to break down barriers to mental health services Photo: ITV News Tyne Tees

In an activity room at Sandwell Park Hospital in Hartlepool, Farzane is completing a henna tattoo. She is among a group of women from Asian backgrounds who are helping to improve understanding of mental ill health within their communities - and highlighting the help available.

The idea sprang from the NHS trust which provides mental health services to a large part of our region. The Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust was particularly conscious that individuals from South Asian communities rarely accessed its memory services for older people.

In an effort to change this situation, the trust teamed up with Shazia Noor, who is known for her work on Teesside to create awareness of mental health issues. She told me why it is a difficult subject for many of the women who come to her.

Shazia Noor works to raise awareness of mental ill health Credit: ITV News Tyne Tees

A lot of the women that we work with have come from different countries so mental health is something that they've never heard about. It's never been spoken about, it's not recognised. So if you don't recognise something, you can't accept it. If you can't accept it, you're never going to get help for it. Also there's a lot of stigma attached to mental health."

– Shazia Noor, Nur Fitness

Together with Middlesbrough Council's Community Learning Service, the trust and Shazia Noor developed a five week course to enable women to volunteer on hospital wards.

The project has two key aims: firstly, bringing staff into hospitals who can connect with patients from similar backgrounds through shared culture and language. It is also hoped participants can pass on their knowledge of mental health to their friends and family on a more informal basis, spreading positive messages and information about the issues.

Sandwell Park is among the hospitals benefiting from the women's knowledge and experience. It provides mental health services for older people. As well as henna tattooing, the women bring a range of skills to the wards, including manicuring, gardening and other activities. A number of recruits have gone a step further; and are beginning paid work for the trust. They say they are delighted to be working for the good of the local community.

Meeting health care assistants Farzane and Saeqa Credit: ITV News Tyne Tees

In our community we don't really ask for help. We just like to look after our elderly people ourselves, keep everything locked indoors at home. So now we know there's help out there - what that extra bit of help can do for that person.

– Saeqa Waheed, Health Care Assistant

From our point of view the word of mouth is really positive and it's really powerful within the Asian community. We wanted to make sure we could bring them into our staffing and show some of the Westernised treatments that we do use but also show that it isn't necessarily always about tablets. It's about talking to people and about understanding people's spiritual beliefs.

– Allison Cook, Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust

A second group of volunteers have now completed their training. The hope is that this project can make a significant, and long term, difference in raising awareness of mental health issues and the help on offer.