Are you really listening?

‘Are You Really Listening?’ is a collection of real life stories about the stigma of mental health problems in black and minority ethnic (BME) communities.

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How it started

In 2007 the research paper ‘Mosaics of Meaning: Exploring stigma and discrimination towards mental health problems in black and minority ethnic communities in Glasgow’ it was found that the degree of stigma among these groups and in long-established BME communities was particularly high.

The paper recommended that work needed to be done around empowering BME service users to share their experiences around stigma and discrimination with mental health problems. It was hoped that this sharing process would encourage debate and dialogue in other members of the community, reduce feelings of isolation and help to dispel the taboo of mental health problems.

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The project was run in partnership with:

  • Glasgow Association for Mental Health (GAMH)
  • NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde
  • Positive Mental Attitudes
  • Scottish Storytelling Centre


A creative ‘storytelling’ method, was used to encourage service users to share their stories in a safe environment. Participants were invited to take part in group and one-to-one storytelling sessions in Glasgow, Dundee and Edinburgh.

People were encouraged to tell their own stories to the rest of the group in sessions, or individually with the storyteller. These personal experiences were shared through a mixture of pictures and songs, poems and traditional stories.

Group sessions were run by a support worker and a storyteller from the Scottish Storytelling Centre. The stories were recorded in the group and individual sessions, and selected stories were then compiled into a booklet and printed by NHS Health Scotland.

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The booklet has been distributed to NHS staff and support workers in mental health services, as well as BME communities. Since March 2010, 6,000 copies have been distributed. It has been used for many mental health training courses, including Scotland’s Mental Health First Aid (SMHFA) courses, and has been translated into several languages for non-English speaking communities, with more available on request.


In a follow-up group session, participants agreed that the storytelling sessions had helped them gain a better understanding of mental health problems, realise that they were not alone and build confidence. One participant says, ‘It was like oxygen for us. It was like a healing process, we felt refreshed.’

The storytelling process was evaluated in a report published by NHS Health Scotland in December 2009. It concluded that the process of storytelling is hugely beneficial in empowering service users and aiding recovery.

‘It made us feel that we now want to tell our story as there is a purpose: to help others,’ says a participant.

A full evaluation of the project will follow later in 2010.

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Lessons learned

The stigma of mental health problems in BME communities made it essential that participation in this project was anonymous. Sensitivity to the complex barriers faced by participants was vital.

What’s next for the project?

To reach further audiences, NHS Health Scotland, along with other organisations including 'see me', GAMH, Voices of Experience (VOX) and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, is producing a DVD with new stories around stigma and recovery due for release in December 2010.

Some people who took part in the storytelling sessions plan to put together a radio broadcast to talk about the stigma in BME communities in the future.

Project Officer Arma Sayed hopes to have a regular discussion with Awaz FM, a local radio station for the South Asian community, so this could be carried out as sensitively and as powerfully as possible.

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Related documents and links


Arma Sayed Project Officer - Mental Health and Race Equality Equality, People and Performance Directorate NHS Health Scotland 4th Floor Elphinstone House 65 West Regent Street Glasgow G2 2AF

Telephone: 0141 354 2931 Email:




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