Black History Month 2021: reflections from Dr Chinwe Obinwa
06 October, 2021
Part of our celebration of Black History Month involves recognising, celebrating and sharing stories from individuals across the mental health space. We spoke to Dr Chinwe Obinwa, a consultant forensic psychiatrist at the Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. She spoke to us about her role, her experience being black in mental health, and how racism has transformed over a very testy 18 months.
How has your mental health changed over the past 12 months?
"As clinicians, we sometimes forget that we are not invincible, and we can fall ill. I have always been resilient so thinking about my mental health is not something I would do. The last 12 months have been an eye opener for me. I worked throughout the covid pandemic, remotely and in-person when I was allowed. "The experience made me reconsider my working pattern and what I truly want to achieve in life. I had to reflect on what was important to me and make changes for the benefit of my mental and emotional wellbeing. It has not been easy, and I must say changing old habits is difficult."
What motivated you to choose a career in mental health?
"I have always been drawn to public health and I was very intrigued by the work of the United Nations and World Health Organisation as a medical student so I thought my career would be in public health.
"I got into mental health by chance during my National Youth Service Year following graduation in Nigeria. My posting was to the Neuropsychiatric Hospital in Yaba Lagos, and I fell in love with psychiatry (literally) and never looked back.
"I was truly humbled that patients trusted me with their deep and troubling secrets and also trusted me to help them. It was quite the journey for me personally as there were a lot of stigmas, not only towards the patients but also towards the clinicians that worked with them. I was made to feel 'less than' because I chose Mental Health. If I had to redo all over again, I would still choose mental health."
Has being black in mental health changed (for the better or worse)?
"Being black and working in mental health can be difficult. As a black female, one is sometimes subjected to disrespectful behaviour not just from patients but also from peers, so you need to work harder to establish yourself.
"It is difficult to see in reality what other people call 'data', over-prescription of antipsychotic medications, lack of creativity in engaging black patients in psychological therapy, accessing care only when they are in prison, and the difficulties experienced at every step of the way in the healthcare system.
"I also think it can be rewarding, especially if you are able to support a patient and their family through their difficulties due to knowledge of their cultural background. It is also positive when they can see someone that they relate to. It is equally rewarding working with students, especially in medical schools and trainees. 'You can not be what you can not see'. Not sure where this quote came from but it is apt."
Has the UK progressed or regressed in dealing with racism?
"Discussing racism in the UK is such a thorny and uncomfortable issue for people. It makes people defensive. We really need to get to a stage where we can acknowledge that it is a problem. Only then can we have open and honest conversations about solutions. I am not sure we are there yet. In my own little way, I want to keep the conversation going!"