by Curlan Campbell, NOW Grenada
- Circulated video prompts campaign against stigma and discrimination
- Mental health advocate on mission to change perceptions about mental health
A viral video of a woman naked in the streets of St George’s in September has prompted a mental health advocate to campaign against stigma and discrimination of people coping with mental health challenges.
Natalie Simon, who was born in London but grew up in Mt Granby St John, has had firsthand experience of the challenges surrounding mental health after her mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia, rendering her unable to care for her children.
Simon received a Master of Science in Addiction and Mental Health and Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector (PTLLS) in Teaching and Mental Health First Aid. Her passion to end stigma and discrimination, drove her to terminate her job as a trust/fundraising officer at one of the UK’s leading mental health charities to create her foundation called Ending Stigma Grenada. Started in 2017 the foundation is dedicated to providing training to Grenadians to encourage greater mental health awareness and to provide assistance and care for people coping with mental illness.
Simon said it was appalling to see that people would circulate such a video. “The stigma here in Grenada is really serious because I think we have all seen that video that went viral of the lady who had the mental health breakdown, and I felt very saddened that this was circulated rather than assisting the lady. People started to circulate it, and that does not help in her recovery.”
Experiencing the devastating effects of having to grow up without her mother who diagnosed with schizophrenia, Simon is now on a mission to change perceptions about mental health.
“The video made me feel really sad. I thought about my mother at the time because my mother had schizophrenia, and this really affected my childhood. I experienced childhood trauma and I was sad that people didn’t come to her aid. I started to think about doing these ‘end stigma and discrimination’ workshops in Grenada.”
Immediately after arriving in Grenada, Simon reached out to the Ministry of Health to discuss the Ending Stigma Grenada Project but after not being satisfied with their response, she then decided to volunteer at a soup kitchen in Gouyave. After volunteering for a few weeks her request to pilot Ending Stigma Grenada workshops at the Catholic Church Conference Room, was quickly granted.
She has set a goal to train at least 1,000 people in mental health awareness by the end of 2019. “By the end of 2019, I aim to train 1,000 people in mental health awareness, whether that be in well-being and resilience or understanding depression. So by the end of 2019, they should be able to gain the skills to recognise symptoms of mental health and help others in their communities,” Simon said.
As part of her mental health awareness campaign strategy, Simon travels around with a black dog, a universal metaphor for depression first used by Sir Winston Churchill to describe his darker moods.
Simon said this is a creative way to start conversations on the topic of mental health. “The black dog is associated with depression, but the reason I carry it around is that it is a conversation starter. So when I am walking around with it, some people think I am mad, but most of the time people are happy to have a conversation with me about mental health, and they feel comfortable to speak about their own experience.”
The recent Wellbeing and Resilience Workshop promoted what stress is, how to recognise the symptoms of stress, identify stressors, learn various methods and coping techniques, and how to be aware of how healthy living will contribute to overall wellbeing.