For our third and last but definitely not the least blog series for Mental Health Awareness Week 2022, we chatted to Antonio Ferreira, a mental health activist with an incredible story. Antonio was diagnosed with schizophrenia and has come a long way. His work today aims to spread hope and inspire individuals to keep faith, believe in yourself and move forward. Here's Antonio with all smiles, rocking our Leiho 'It's Cool To Care' t-shirt!
Tell us about yourself and how you got into the mental health world:
"It’s a funny story because the reason I started was to get my lecturer off my back – to explain, I was studying psychology at University of Hull and I had big ambitions, but as I was studying, my lecturer said to me “Antonio, you have to go out and get extra experience, you can’t just rely on your degree”. So to get her off my back, I went to go and sign up to a local charity. I got an email from the charity asking me to come in and tell my story during their staff induction day.
The one thing I learned coming out of a psychiatric ward was that the best thing a person can do is to try again and not give up.
So I went in and told my story, and the reception I got that day after sharing my experiences, seeing the way people got up and clapped and told me “You’re story is so powerful, you really need to follow through with it” – that was the first lightbulb moment where I thought, maybe this is something more than just trying to get my lecturer off my back.
From there, I went on to volunteer for 6-7 other charities from things like being a Lived Experience Media volunteer to all sorts of involvement to follow."
What do you think people should be doing to raise more awareness around mental health?
"In my experience, there is a lot of awareness being done already. I don’t think right now is the awareness that needs improvement, because what I’ve noticed in that the awareness that the general population does is that we’re painting a picture of who suffers from mental illness because there isn’t diversity in raising awareness. There is a lack of diversity in raising that awareness of people who suffer from or struggle with mental illness.
I wholeheartedly believe that awareness should follow on with action."
Do you think there is any corelation between giving back and mental health?
"I believe in giving back because firstly, it helped me find my sense of value. As someone who goes through mental illness, the one thing you experience is loneliness. You feel that you have no value to the world, and that’s the thing that gives contribution to your hopelessness. You feel like the world would be no different with you not in it. So being able to give back to others gives you that sense of value because to give back, someone’s got to receive. So in whole, it provides that sense of feeling like ‘Oh I am a gear in this world that helps it turn’ and that there is a purpose for me. So I would encourage everyone to give back and find their purpose in what they’re giving back to the world.
In football, we are taught a saying ‘Give your pass and go’ and I tried to personify that and I thought if I’m giving my hope to others then I definitely need to take an interest in the hope I have. So in that way, what I’m giving to others I am learning as well. The greatest part of the activism I do for me is giving back to others, giving people hope and providing a sense of relief that I can see someone like me doing well from such a dark place."
Any final tips on how people can have more hope and for those who may be feeling a bit lonely on this journey?
"Even the place I’m in now as a mental health activist, it still does get kind of lonely. Because something that people don’t really notice is that while I’m expressing my story to the world, it’s still very difficult to sit down in a room with a group of my friends and talk about it. It’s like I don’t fear judgement from people I don’t know but I fear judgement from the people I do know. And so that can develop some sort of loneliness at times. But the advice I use and tell others to overcome that, bear in mind I love my metaphors, is that firstly, “no one can learn to appreciate the sun without first experiencing the rain”. And secondly “it’s the tortoise that won the race, not the hare”. So you have to learn to be patient and take each day as it comes. I could go on forever! But the main thing I’m trying to say is that the good follows the bad and there is no way you’ll appreciate the good without having it’s opposite first."
Find out more about what Antonio does and check out his website here: