Saturday, 20 March 2021

Let's Talk About BAME Mental Health: My Experience as a Third Culture Kid

Olugbemi talks about her experience struggling with her cultural identity.

- Linda


I was born and raised in London. My childhood was an amalgamation of Nigerian and British culture. My parents would speak Yoruba and I responded in English. I’d have jollof rice for breakfast and pizza for dinner. However, I know that there are some who just identify me as a “second generation immigrant.” It does not matter that I speak English more fluently than Yoruba or that the most time I have spent in Nigeria was two and a half months. I am an immigrant. Similarly, in Nigeria, I am seen as a British girl despite the fact that I can understand everything that my relatives are saying. It does not matter that I wear my Nigerian clothing and that I can cook most dishes. 

When I started University, I had quite an identity crisis. People thought I was somewhat exotic. Many people had never met a black person before and they were curious. People wanted to know how I got my hair done. My name, which had never caused much difficulty before, started to feel quite awkward. There were many questions like ‘is there a shorter version for your name?’ and ‘is there something else that I can call you?’ It was a bit of a double whammy. I was also struggling with an eating disorder; I hated my body and wanted to hide away. However, I constantly found myself in the centre of attention and it felt negative. In many ways, I felt like I had to work harder on not being seen and so I relied more on negative coping mechanisms to deal with things. I don’t think struggling with my cultural identity caused my mental health problems, but at points, that struggle certainly made my mental health worse. 

I have now reconciled my cultural identity. The pivotal moment for me was when I learned to take everything in my stride. I have beautiful black skin and that’s not something that I can hide away. I answer questions that people are genuinely curious about – though I do not entertain anything that is malicious. I am trying to improve speaking in Yoruba and English grammar. Now, I recognise that culture isn’t a homogenous concept. It is influenced by generation, relationships, experiences and much more! I am not the perfect archetype of someone who is Nigerian or British, but I doubt that anyone is really. In recent years, there is more of a recognition of people who grow up outside of their country of nationality – third culture individuals. TED Talks like this one have helped me come to terms with my identity and I would highly recommend this video to anyone who is interested in learning more about experiences like mine. Have a look at this brilliant Ted X talk.

To learn more about the individual and societal challenges facing members of BAME communities, check out this resource compiled by the Mental Health Foundation. 
 



I am Linda. I did a BSc in Psychology at the University of Warwick and now I am studying a MSc in Psychological research and working part-time. 

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