The Hayaan project is based at Mind in Harrow (West London) and is funded by the Trust for London. The term ‘Hayaan’ in Somali is a nomadic term meaning ‘moving on to a better place’. The project offers an innovative approach to peer support, by recruiting and training a team of ‘peer educators’ from the local Somali community. The project aims to:
- help reduce the sense of isolation experienced by Somalis with mental health difficulties
- help increase the wellbeing and self-confidence of Somali mental health service users
- provide advocacy and interpreting support to Somali mental health service users to help them understand and access mental health and other social welfare services.
There is a large new arrival Somali community in Harrow of over 10,000 people and a larger community in Brent, which has resulted in the project extending to this neighbouring borough. Traditionally, mental health is not recognised as a health problem within the Somali culture. There is considerable stigma and shame about mental distress, which frequently leads to families ‘covering up’ mental health problems and individuals hiding their distress or disturbance until it becomes severe and uncontainable.
The Hayaan project took on the role of helping members of the Somali community to understand mental health, the treatments available, and the support on offer in their local community. To achieve this, the Hayaan project designed an innovative approach to maximise outreach and impact.
The project is led and managed by a Coordinator from the local Somali community. The Coordinator recruits volunteers from the local Somali community to become cultural advocates and ‘peer educators’.
The volunteers organise fortnightly workshops in a local community venue to provide information, education and support to individuals experiencing mental health problems. The volunteers also engage local service providers to attend the workshops so they can understand the Somali culture, and the Somali community can learn what the service providers can offer in terms of support and treatment.
Awareness of the workshops spread by word of mouth and outreach by the volunteers, and they have successfully attracted service providers and service users. An evaluation carried out in January 2013 found that the majority of service users attending the workshops experienced increased wellbeing and knowledge of mental health and how to access local services. Most providers gained a greater understanding of the Somali culture and beliefs and felt that the dialogue has helped them to better understand how to support Somali clients.