To mark South Asian Heritage Month, clinical team leader Robert Delahunty shared his story, remembering enjoying happy times in India, and reflecting on his time growing up.
Hello, my name is Robert. Through my work, I help people who are living with severe ill mental illness to improve their physical health. Our team deliver care to people who are living in and around Huddersfield.
When I saw the Trust is celebrating South Asian Heritage Month, I was very happy to take part. I’m proud to say that I have been married to my wonderful wife for 20 years. She is Punjabi and together we have two teenage kids who are proud of their dual heritage.
I’m a Yorkshire lad, by birth. I was raised in a multicultural area of Leeds: Harehills. Growing up, my family’s neighbours were from every corner of the world. As a child, it was an amazing place to grow up in. There was always a new face to get to know as people came and went from the area. Everyone brought something different to the community and as an adult, I feel most relaxed and at home in multi-cultural neighbourhoods.
My mum is from County Mayo – some people in Ireland refer to it as the Wild West because its Atlantic shores are the last stop before America.
I get emotional when I think about my mum and the history of Ireland – its history is based on people overcoming extreme trauma and suffering caused by famine and war. It’s actually a familiar story around the world, which prompts people to move countries, looking for work and a safe place to create a home for them and their families.
After my mum left the safety and familiarity of her family and friends in Ireland, she dedicated her life to a nursing career in the NHS. She worked really hard for 39 years and inspired me and my two sisters to go into nursing. My early life wasn’t easy for my family – we were really fortunate that we lived next door to a compassionate and caring Polish woman. She helped us when no-one else would and I will never forget her kindness.
Me and my wife get over to India as much as we can. People sometimes ask me, “what’s it like over there?” I can only describe India as a fantastic assault on the senses: The rich aroma of spices can be smelt everywhere you go. The streets are filled with the vibrant and friendly noise of people chatting and sharing their lives together; the sound of car horns is deafening. People are so hospitable there – I’m always blown away by their generosity. I’ve never left a friend or family member’s home in India without being ‘fed and watered’ – no matter what time you turn up, you are given a really warm welcome. It’s a fantastic and unique country.
A memory that sticks in my mind is the first time my wife took me to an Indian wedding. I was feeling quite nervous as I didn’t know what to expect. A kind faced Sikh man came over, spoke to me and then invited me outside to meet his friends. I remember feeling a bit apprehensive because where I’m from, you never know quite what to expect if someone asks you to go outside! My wife smiled and told me it would be fine. When we got outside there were 10 Sikh men gathered around tables, chatting and drinking whisky together. After a bit, we all went inside and danced together. It is not something I’ve ever done in West Yorkshire. No one batted an eyelid because there is a culture of acceptance in India; it makes me feel happy and energised.
I love working in Huddersfield. It gives me a chance to spend time helping people from different backgrounds to live healthier lives. People with severe mental illness are likely to die up to 25 years younger than people who enjoy good mental health. They often really struggle to get help for physical health problems because their mental health conditions can cause them to forget to go to the doctors or feel too anxious to attend the appointments.
It is not always easy for people to talk to a stranger about their health concerns – when you add the stress of living with a mental condition, in the mix, it gets even harder. Our NHS medical teams work really hard to make it as easy as possible for people to talk to us but for people with mental health conditions, going to a GP or hospital appointment can be a real challenge.
Sometimes the people we care for develop long term health problems that are associated with drug and alcohol abuse. Many resort to drugs and alcohol because their mental health conditions are so hard to live with. Addiction can cause people to behave anti socially which drives their friends and family away, at a time when they most need support. I hate to see people suffering from loneliness and isolation – it is a privilege to be part of a friendly team who support people to get the physical health support they need.
My heritage and the heritage of my wife and children is anchored in the gifts of kindness, generosity, openness to others as well as the therapeutic effect of honest hard work.