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The consultation: mind over matter

LINTON: 'People don't understand what it's like to be a black woman in a majority white institution'

As a black woman, Samara Linton felt isolated at medical school. Now a junior doctor, she has co-edited an anthology exploring the mental health experience of black, Asian and minority ethnic people in the UK 

We moved to the UK from Jamaica when I was seven. When I was 14, my parents talked about moving to Canada. I said, no, I want to go to Cambridge. I was very goal-oriented and it paid off.

In my second year, I wrote a blog about cheeses. It had a rant about people going on about the different names, as if any ordinary person would know. It was just little things like that, adding up to make you feel out of place. When you’re already feeling low, it makes you feel even more isolated and alone.

I saw a university counsellor. I talked about feeling disconnected from the predominant culture there but they struggled to understand. It wasn’t her experience. People don’t necessarily understand what it’s like to be an immigrant or a black woman in a majority white institution.

I ran an event about intersectionality and mental health. People talked about how their different identities, their race, sexuality, gender and religion, interacted with their mental health. It was what I was experiencing personally, what was coming through in my studies. It was clearly something people wanted to talk about more.

My schoolfriend asked for help with The Colour of Madness. She’s my co-editor. It’s a glimpse into having mental health difficulties if you are not white, through writing, poetry and artwork.

There are some common threads. It’s the small things, though not really small. The microaggressions and othering. Not necessarily overt racism, or sexism, or Islamophobia, or homophobia. It’s the comments, the small looks, the everyday things that eat away at people’s sense of self or self-worth.

Some are quite hard to read because they are really critical. Some feel unfair. We put them in anyway. It’s what people actually feel. It’s really challenged me to reflect on my profession.

Last year, I was like, psychiatry, yes, it’s what I want to do. But you’re stepping into people’s real, messy lives. Even if the contexts are different, there are small, unexpected things that trigger you and make you feel exposed or shaken up. It’s still a contender. Right now, I don’t know. I still have some time to figure it out.

The Colour of Madness is published this month

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