A Rallying Call to All Mental Health First Aid Instructors

A Rallying Call to All Mental Health First Aid Instructors

This article has come about from a unique set of circumstances and one that was surely meant to be.

I had waited almost a year to get on my instructor training due to the lockdown. Finally, I did my training. I really enjoyed the course and I was intrigued with the new Anti-Racist training content we were taught. I was excited to finally be a part of MHFA England.

 As a new excited instructor, in-between my 2 co-deliveries and looking forward to being signed off, a process I am sure we can all remember and relate to. I decided to register myself on my first webinar, one on Race Equity for instructors from Black Asian and Ethnic Minority backgrounds.  

 Coming from an ethnic minority background, knowing through lived experience what ethnic minorities in the UK have always faced when it comes to both discrimination and mental health. Aware that discrimination and mental health are inextricably linked for us, I felt that this webinar would be a great place to start my journey!

 I registered, looking forward to meeting and connecting with my fellow Black, Asian and People of Colour instructors for the first time. I was excited about all the collaborations that may be had, and how that could impact our communities in a positive way!

 As the webinar began, to my surprise, disappointment, and embarrassment, only 3 people turned up!

Those people were, Simon Blake the CEO, a lady instructor who was white and accidentally registered for the webinar and myself. In all honesty as a new instructor to MHFA England, I was baffled at this turnout. Many questions started popping to mind, mainly around “what the hell is going on?” and “where are all my people at?”

 I was frustrated, perhaps even angry to a point. With the knowledge of everything that is happening in our communities, why had there not been any engagement by one single person from the Black, Asian and People of Colour instructor base, especially at a webinar designed for us!

It felt like attending Notting Hill Carnival without any Black people, or pride without any LGBTQ+ people. It was odd, to say the least.

Now for writing purposes and purposes of this article, I have decided to commandeer the term BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and/or People of Colour) and use it to coin the term BAPOC (Black Asian and People of Colour) which is more relevant to the UK. I kindly ask you not to get too preoccupied with it and miss the message of this article.

 The reason I do this is because just like myself, a lot of people from BAPOC backgrounds do not like the term BAME. We just do not like the way its sounds, (don’t ask why) and a lot of us are now getting sick of being referred to as a minority too.

We feel it adds to the general disenfranchisement of our communities. The fact is we may be a minority in the UK, but with an estimated 8 billion people on the planet, we represent around 7 billion.

We are in fact the majority and a truly diverse one!

 Due to this fact a lot of us do not see ourselves as a minority any longer, here in the UK or anywhere else and no longer like to be referred to as such. Hence the term BAME, its meaning and its sound, does not sit well with us. So, I hope using the term BAPOC (Black Asian and People of Colour) for this article sits better, I really don’t want to be writing all that out every time!

BAPOC Instructor Engagement and its Importance

The BAPOC community in the UK are the most likely to develop mental health issues and are the least likely to seek mainstream help. If you are from the BAPOC community this should strike a chord with you, it certainly does for me.

 For me, it triggers the toxic cultural perception of mental health which has been around for generations and is well and truly imbedded in our culture. I feel like I can say this on behalf of all BAPOC communities in the UK. It’s time to be honest about that.

This was one of the main reasons I decided to become an MHFA instructor in the first place.

 The worst affected group are Black people, Caribbean in particular. Detention rates under the Mental Health Act are 4 times higher for people in the ‘Black’ or ‘Black British’ group compared to White people. Risk of psychosis in Black Caribbean groups is estimated to be nearly 7 times higher than in the White population.

 This is why it is so important when you lump a group of people together due to background, there still needs to be a degree of separation. As mentioned in the Inclusive Language Guide recently released by MHFA England, (which I personally feel is one of the most important documents produced for the MHFA instructor base). It clearly states:

 Black people (noun)

What does it mean? – People of African descent or of the African diaspora.

 If you’re referring to Black people, use the term ‘Black people’ and not ‘People

of Colour’. White supremacy is rooted in and upheld by anti-Blackness, so it is

important to distinguish Black people and their experience from other groups.

 According to the Mental Health Foundation

Heartbreakingly, the influences on BAPOC communities’ mental health are:

·    Racism and discrimination

·    Social and economic inequalities

·    Mental health stigma

·    Criminal justice system

The impact and experience of racism by the Black community in the UK, is more intense and must be separated to be addressed. Even within other marginalised communities with higher levels of mental health issues such as the LGBTQ+ community, racism issues arise.

 Just this week as I write this article (18th March 2021), the entire board of Pride in London’s community board resigned due to a culture of bullying and “hostile environment” towards Black people and people of colour.

Stonewall took a stance against this in 2018, when they pulled out of the parade due to a perceived lack of diversity. So even as of this week it seems, racism raises its ugly head. One can only image what a Person of Colour from the LGBTQ+ community feels like right now. Alone and let down I suppose!

 So What About The Chinese?

 The Chinese community in the UK has a population estimated around half a million. The Chinese Mental Health Association http://www.cmha.org.uk/ seems to be the only organisations doing any work of this kind in the UK.  If there are others, they are not readily available or visible online.

 According to the Chinese National Healthy Living Centre:

Language, culture, poor symptom recognition and stigma are often cited as barriers to access leading to low uptake of health services.

 The NHS Executive Mental Health Task Force report observed that, the Chinese and Vietnamese communities were largely ‘invisible’ to mainstream purchasers and providers.

The main areas of difficulty for Chinese families were:

• Lack of English

• Lack of knowledge of their rights

• Cultural differences, including lack of understanding by the statutory sector

• Scattered settlement

• Long and unsociable working hours

 As you can see with the Black and Chinese communities, there are some similarities, after that it is like comparing apples and pears. This is why individual and specific information from each community is a must and the recruitment and engagement of MHFA instructors from these communities are crucial!

 So with all this knowledge to hand, don’t we as MHFA instructors from BAPOC backgrounds have a duty to play our part? By all means, I am not saying that this is all our responsibility to address, no not at all. This is the responsibility of the entire MHFA instructor community to address, but I do feel it is our responsibility as BAPOC instructors to lead that charge!

So Where’s Everyone At?

That question opens up a whole new set of question that MHFA England are trying to address and one of the reasons why Simon asked me to write this article. I have now been on 3 webinars with MHFA England on topics concerning BAPOC instructor such as Anti-Racism and inclusive language.

I have not seen one BAPOC Instructor involved apart from the speakers themselves.

What I have seen is scores of white conscientious instructors getting involved, trying to make difference in a community they are not even a part of!

MHFA England, we have a problem!

 MHFA England – We Will Scrutinise!

Now on the first webinar where there was only 3 of us, the best thing that came out if it was I got to speak to Simon for the best part of an hour. We discussed topics I raised in regards the BAPOC instructor community, what may be happening and why they may not be engaging.

Could it be that even having a separate webinar for BAPOC instructors, may be viewed as a form of segregation?

This conversation raised some important questions regarding what the cause of this disengagement could be. This was something that Simon was as curious as I was about, and another reason that prompted him to ask me to write this article.

 So, just how many BAPOC instructors are there at MHFA England? If those numbers are low what can MHFA England do about it?

Growing up in Plaistow in Newham, East London. There are two things I know very well.

Poverty and diversity.

I know 9/10 people cannot afford the £250 to do a MHFA course, let alone the near £3k for an instructor course. All sounds like a rich white people thing!

As we all know, many from our communities will see it like that and totally disengage.

Could MHFA England address that through subsidised or funded training of instructors working in particular areas in BAPOC communities?

People such as youth centre leaders, community leaders that work in underprivileged/undeserved parts of our communities. People, who work with families that fall into the poverty threshold or within the prison/probation services for example.

This is not me saying that this where all BAPOC people come from, but statistically in the UK, we make up a large part of these communities. This is also where mental health issues in our communities are more than likely to develop. 

Could MHFA England target people working within BAPOC communities, from the BAPOC communities, helping to train those that need it the most?

This could mean a MHFA course being delivered for the price of a course pack rather than standard £250-£300. A big difference when you are coming from underprivileged and low-income households!  

That then naturally brings up the question of National Trainers, how many are from BAPOC backgrounds? We will always relate more to person from our own backgrounds who understands the etiquettes and customs of our cultures and circumstances.

What about the management within MHFA England all the way up to Executive Positions?

People of BAPOC backgrounds must be represented there and not in any form of tokenism, we have seen all that before.

There must be people from BAPOC backgrounds with proven track records, who can really influence decisions, direction, and the culture at MHFA England.

There are plenty of us out there!

Is the representation there, because the scrutiny will come, especially when an organisation is as progressive as MHFA England. Especially when you look at things such as:

Creation of the Race and Mental Health Group on Workplace by Facebook

As you can see, there is no organisation in the UK making so much noise and working towards changing the narrative on these topics.

Topics that have impacted our communities for generations. However, like it or not, we will scrutinise and we have every right to do so. This scrutiny will come first from the BOPAC MHFA instructor community, by people just like myself, and there is a good reason why!

 To explain I will use a term from the Inclusive Language Guide;

Allyship (noun)

What does it mean?

Allyship is using privilege to actively support the rights of a marginalised group. It is a lifelong commitment to listening, unlearning, self-educating, and re-evaluating.

More importantly as stated in the Inclusive Language Guide:


“Poor allyship is taking credit for the experiences of marginalised people and taking recognition for the arguments they have been having for their entire lives.”

Now I feel the above is extremely important for us, for generations we have lived through organisation after organisation talking about it, but not really being about it.

This naturally leads to an inevitable lack of trust and disengagement. For us without the numbers and representation in the ranks, it all means nothing!

MHFA England recently took on Karim Virani and Adah Paris which sends out a loud and clear message on where they stand with it. https://mhfaengland.org/mhfa-centre/news/mhfa-england-new-neds-2020/

Nevertheless, questions will still arise around:

What difference will the new appointments make?

How will it impact the BAPOC instructor base and our communities?

What polices will there be for recruiting more instructors and NT’s from BAPOC backgrounds, if the representation is lacking?

Will there be initiatives to get BAPOC instructors more involved in their communities, via the work of MHFA England and its partners?

We have two options here, stand scratching our heads wondering why BAPOC instructors are not engaging or start conversations and practices that need to be had, to get the engagement of BOPAC community. Both internally and externally to MHFA England.

As a person of colour, what really matters to me is how this all trickles down and impacts real individuals within our areas and communities. I hope this article is the start of that conversation and process.

I therefore encourage every single MHFA instructor from Black, Asian and People of colour backgrounds to get involved.

 In this article, I have opened up quite a few talking points and it was written by just one of us, me! Imagine if we all got together, the possibilities of what can be achieved through our thoughts, ideas, and viewpoints as a collective. Then through MHFA England, seeing those ideas into fruition as a community of MHFA Instructor Members.

Imagine what that would mean for our communities!

We may never get another platform like MHFA England to seriously engage mental health issues within our communities. An organisation that seems to be doing a lot more than just talking about it whilst seeking to address where they maybe lacking. A breath of fresh air I am sure you will agree.

Perhaps this time, it may not be, too good to be true!

We must engage and in order to do this, we have to be in it to win it. We get no points or make any progress by sitting on the sidelines. When it comes to mental health, our communities have done this for far too long, time to break that cycle.

We need every new instructor from the BAPOC community joining MHFA England, to be met by a community that represents them. A community that offers support and opportunities to be involved in work within our communities.

The opposite of the experience I have had!

We owe this to ourselves, our communities, and future generations to come. So let’s get together, let’s get involved, let’s create this community, and let’s get this right.

If you, like many of us have been waiting for the opportune moment, well here it is.

Richie Perera – Founder of Mental Health and Life & MHFA Instructor Member

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