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A HIDDEN HISTORY:
African Women and the
British Health Service

1930–2000

Monica

Monica was born and raised in London, with parents who had moved from Nigeria to study in the UK in the late 1970s. In her interview, Monica discusses her journey into healthcare – progressing from a mental health nurse to a psychotherapist. She also discusses the value of having black people working in the mental health field.

EARLY LIFE & CHILDHOOD

"Growing up, I was born in South London, in some hospital that used to be in Clapham. I grew up in East London, and I somehow found myself around the city in my teens."


"My mum and dad actually came to study in the UK in the late '70s. Mum came for her masters at that point, and my dad was also coming to do his masters. It was very common for people to come purely to study at that point."


RACISM

"[Were there] Challenges? Plenty of. Overcoming challenges, I'm not sure of. Challenges as an African woman or somebody of African background [include] breaking perceptions and stereotypes, facing discrimination in many ways, biases, and just really working to challenge people's unconscious biases that they'd have."


COMMUNITY

"As a youngster, yes. We were taken back quite often. Certainly not in my adult life. I haven't been back to Nigeria. And reason being there's a sense that everybody's around me now."


"One of my earliest memories of Nigeria [was] just happiness, you know - and just a sense of community. People cared about you, neighbours looked forward to you coming and just random people that you probably didn't know, but knew of you and that felt special."


CAREER

"I began my training in 2004. I trained at King's College. And completed my training in 2007."


"It felt like a very natural progression into healthcare. I'm the first of four children. The thing about being born first into a Nigerian family is you assume the caring role. From day one, particularly as a first child, the concept of being told it's your responsibility to take care of your younger ones. It's almost like a designated role."


"My background as a mental health nurse really helped me in psychiatry – as a psychotherapist rather. And that's because certainly as a mental health nurse, I had a knowledge of of medical part of treating mental health problems. I also had the experience of medication and acute presentations."


"I think certainly one of the most significant highlights is the opportunity to work with BME groups. Psychotherapy has usually been something that hasn't been easily accessible. I think working within a service that was very much focused on improving access to psychological therapies and really trying to get as many people accessing therapy was felt very inspiring for me."


ACTIVISM

"I was always proactive, bringing things up, talking about things, or at least acknowledging things – even if we feel nothing will be done. In terms of the community, that certainly one of the things that I was proactively doing within any role. Just speaking about these challenges that were faced, more so as a psychotherapist, because again, there are very few BME women in psychotherapy. It's very much about the opportunities that are afforded to us."

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