World Mental Health Day: Why I Became a Mental Health First Aider
10 October marks World Mental Health Day, a day observed around the world to raise awareness of mental health and to mobilise the efforts to support those experiencing mental health issues.
Now, more than ever, its important to check in on our family, friends and colleagues to make sure they have the support they need for their health and wellbeing.
At the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA), our aim is to create a workplace where mental health is treated on par with physical health. As part of this, we have a team of 47 Mental Health First Aiders (MHFA) across the organisation who have undertaken training accredited by Mental Health First Aid England and are equipped to support our colleagues and their mental health.
Irina Prata, Caseworker at the NHSBSA and part of the MHFA network, talks on why she became a Mental Health First Aider and what it means to her:
Hi, I’m Irina and I’ve been working for the NHSBSA for 4 years. I’ve always been passionate about helping people whether it be by listening to their concerns, paying attention to their thoughts or encouraging people and providing support wherever I can.
But my desire to become a MHFA in 2021 was result of what happened in 2020. As we all know, 2020 was the start of a difficult time for many but ultimately was what led me to become part of this network.
During the Black History Month celebrations in 2020, the BAME Network which I’m part of, organised an event related to mental health and wellbeing. The intent was to raise awareness and for us as to reflect on racial discrimination, as well the impact on the mental health and wellbeing of black people. We as a network wanted to address the stigma surrounding mental health in the black community and how workplaces could support Black Mental Health.
Funnily enough, members of the MHFA Network attended the event and after that, one of their representative came to one of our BAME Network monthly meetings to talk more about the support the Mental Health First Aiders provide, and offered the invitation to any members who wanted to become one.
In that moment I felt in my heart that it was an opportunity that God had put on my path, not just to learn how to properly provide the support to a wider number of colleagues from a diverse background, but also to learn how to help my community seek help for mental health and spread awareness.
From that moment I decided to become a Mental Health First Aider because I believe mental health should be given the same level of attention as physical health, since our mental wellbeing can sometimes become unwell and that's okay. We need to start to understand that we don’t need to have everything well together. Unfortunately, the Black community which I’m part of, doesn’t always address mental health problem due to stigma against seeking mental health care and are less likely to reach out for help when they need it. Also, some cultures have the mentality that we don’t have mental issues and the strong black girl/woman narrative creates a stereotype that prevents people seeking help.
Overall, I am extremely proud to be part of the MHFA network and the training I have undertaken. By becoming a MHFA I can be someone that can help people from different backgrounds and especially reach out to my community to have those conversations, challenge stereotypes and encourage them to access the available professional support and help to overcome some of the cultural stigmas that often prevent black people from seeking help. I also wanted to use this as an opportunity to expand my knowledge and confidence to approach and support someone dealing with mental health issues by recognising warning signs on my colleagues, my circle of friends and people from Black community.