At the age of 16, Beauty Dhlamini began developing symptoms of depression and anxiety.
At the time, the teenager was unaware that she was suffering with depression but recognised that she had symptoms of anxiety.
Despite seeking help from her GP, Beauty was only diagnosed with a mental health condition at 19 – three years later.
She said: “I only got a formal diagnosis when I was 19. It was just something I didn’t talk about, [it was] very suppressed.
“When it came to an official diagnosis it was like, finally, I knew I wasn’t crazy, there is something wrong.”
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The now 24-year-old, who lives in south London, recalls the “arduous” process of seeking help from her GP when she was a teenager.
She describes that many of her symptoms for depression and anxiety were dismissed as “stress” and “puberty”.
“It was as if I was making it up until I think maybe the fourth or fifth time I went to see my GP, I realised I had to exaggerate my symptoms just to be taken seriously,” she said.
“A lot of people can relate to this experience of not being believed as people of colour – the assumption that we are exaggerating our symptoms and it’s not that bad.”
Her doctor at the time prescribed Beauty with medication, months after she initially reached out for help.
Beauty recalls the medication did help with the physical symptoms but “didn’t help with the mental.”
“I was still incredibly anxious,” she added.
“I was doing A Levels. A lot of things would induce [my] symptoms of anxiety so things like exam pressures. A Level is such a trying time. I would have dealt with it much better if I had someone to talk to.”
During the three years without a diagnosis, Beauty sought help from a school councillor as well as a therapist at university. She also tried a number of self-help techniques that she found online from Calm.
“It wasn’t until I actually went to get support from a school councillor a year later – right before my Year 13 exams – that I actually had that support.
“You find in the health system a lot of the time, mainstream services will fail people that look like me and we often have to find it within our community or community groups to get a crumb of the support we actually need.”
And it was only until Beauty was encouraged by her university therapist, that she decided to make an appointment with her doctor for a formal diagnosis.
She said: “The therapist at university said ‘You need to go to your doctor’, despite my hesitancy.
“Having professional validation from the psychotherapist gave weight to what I was saying, it proved I wasn’t just making it up. Someone else can see I’m displaying symptoms.
“By the time I had seen the therapist, I had reached a crisis point.”
Beauty, who recently sought help from a therapist during the pandemic, still remains hesitant about reaching out to medical professionals for both her physical and mental health.
“If there is something wrong, I will try everything possible before I go to my GP,” she said.
The now 24-year-old is raising awareness of widespread healthcare inequalities across the UK with her friend, Mohamed Ali.
The pair, who both studied undergraduate degrees in Global Health, began their podcast – Mind the Health Gap – in 2019 after recognising a need to discuss the ‘key’ healthcare issues affecting marginalised communities.
“During my undergraduate studies, it was obvious that there weren’t many people with our backgrounds talking about the key health issues that impacted our community. It was clear that policymaking did not translate to change in our environment, “ Mohamed, 24, said.
“This made sense because those involved in policy shaping did not fully understand the issues faced by marginalised communities.”
Healthcare inequalities in the UK manifest themselves in a variety of different ways from access to care to the quality and experience of care you receive.
According to the King’s Fund: “Health inequalities are avoidable, unfair and systematic differences in health between different groups of people.”
A variety of factors, including income, region, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and disability can affect an individual’s health status.
For both Beauty, a Policy Advisor, and Mohamed, a Project Coordinator of Health, the issues surrounding healthcare inequality are deeply personal.
Beauty said: “I’ve seen my aunts really struggle to navigate maternal disparities. I’ve seen my Dad’s healthcare delayed because no one believed there was something wrong with him until he literally had to go private.”
She added: “As people of colour we are aware the inequalities exist but it feels like we are being gaslighted into us thinking it is an individual issue rather than a systemic issue. Speaking to people with lived experience in the podcast really highlights that we are not imagining it, it actually happens.”
Mohamed said: “As a young Black man, it’s not being taken seriously when you’re neurodivergent. Several issues in the Somali community that are also not taken seriously.
“I don’t think either of us would be doing this work if we didn’t have lived experience – I think that’s where we draw motivation from.”
The pair have discussed a variety of topics on their podcast, including the anti-vaccination movement, sickle cell disease as well as the coronavirus and Ebola pandemics.
In particular, both Beauty and Mohamed discuss in depth how the coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately affected minority communities across the UK.
They said: “I mean, a lot of what we’re seeing from the COVID-19 pandemic is just a magnified confirmation of what we already knew.
“Health gaps in this country affect minoritized communities more than others and, even though so many people have unfortunately died from this, which in my opinion could have been prevented, it feels like there isn’t really a sense of urgency to address them anytime soon.”
According to the Office for National Statistics, COVID-19 “death rates for most ethnic minorities are higher compared to White ethnic groups.” This is due to a variety of factors including: living in more urban and deprived areas and having greater exposure to people at work.
In one episode of the podcast, Beauty and Mohamed spoke with Bell Ribeiro-Addy, the Labour MP for Streatham, to discuss the importance of politics in tackling healthcare inequalities.
“A lot of what we discussed with Bell was how there is a lack of political will and profits are overriding the priority of people’s health. We spoke about how the vaccine apartheid continues to exist and how it’s immoral”, they said.
“I think a lot of people appreciate what we’re doing – we get a lot of positive comments and feedback from listeners because no one else is doing this.
They added: “There is a sense of necessity whenever people speak to us about our podcast because some of the things we’re speaking about are uncomfortable, or are often not on the global health agenda.”
And, for both Beauty and Mohamed, the issues surrounding healthcare are wider than addressing inequalities in hospitals and GP surgeries.
Beauty said: “There is no health without addressing social, political, economic and cultural issues that persist in this country. None of these things are happening in silos – you need to address all of them at once. Fix other public services, listen to the people, they know they’re health needs better than anyone.”
The podcast, which seeks to “break down barriers” surrounding healthcare inequalities, can be listened to here.
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