Student Showcase: António Ferreira
At Hype Collective, so many of our wonderful students are involved in amazing societal activities and volunteer work. As February is National Volunteering Month, we met with António Ferreira, to talk about his work as a Mental Health Activist and his recent nomination for the Frontline 50.
Hype: Hi António, thanks so much for talking to us. Let’s start by telling our readers a little bit about yourself and what you do.
António: Hey, I’m Antonio. I’m a mental health activist, public speaker and expert by experience. I campaign for anti-racism in the mental health sector and changing how the UK views and addresses mental health, especially in racialised communities. As a teenager, I was diagnosed with schizophrenia and emotionally unstable personality disorder. At the time, I experienced auditory hallucinations which took over my life and made me want to take my own life. However, that experience is what has shaped and inspired my mantra of turning lemons into lemonade. I now currently study Psychology with Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Essex.
Hype: You were recently nominated for Frontline’s 50 students, congrats! Can you tell us more about what you were nominated for and what your nomination process was like?
António: I was nominated for Frontline’s 50 students for my activism work within mental health. Originally, I was contacted by Hype Collective, who recognised my work and from there, I made it onto the top 50 list. I was nominated for two of my most significant achievements. The first, having had the opportunity to advise Eastenders on a schizophrenia storyline. I was able to offer my lived experience so that Eastenders could accurately portray their storyline of a young, black man with schizophrenia. Secondly, I started a campaign towards eradicating tokenism from the charity space in the mental health arena. With that, I have started a petition that has been signed by hundreds of people that was aimed at senior leaders at charities to take genuine accountability for their institutions’ promise to be a truly anti-racist organisation.
Hype: You’ve been involved in a number of projects that emphasise the significance of talking about mental health, as well as publicly sharing and educating people about your personal experiences. How did you originally become involved in these campaigns?
António: My involvement in these campaigns started after being discharged from a psychiatric ward and wanting to study Psychology in order to be able to support others who have been through similar experiences as myself. But whilst in studying Psychology and being at university, my lecturer would tell me all the time,
“António, you need to get extra experience outside of your degree because the world of Psychology is really competitive and you won’t just be able to rely on your degree”.
Simply to get her off of my back, I signed up to the local charity, Mind, at the time. From there, Mind asked me to give a talk on my personal experience during their staff induction day, which I did. After that, the ball just kept on rolling. I signed up to 7 mental health charities, and from there became more and more engrossed in the idea of raising awareness for mental health within under-represented communities. With experience, comes development, and so I became more and more familiar in understanding the gap between mental health and awareness, especially in under-represented communities, and learning what I could offer and how I could support, to initially get me to where I am now in being involved in so many campaigns and organisations.
Hype: You were featured on a fantastic BBC podcast in July of last year, where you mentioned your work in promoting honest representations of schizophrenia in the media. Can you tell us more about this work?
António: I really enjoyed being a part of the BBC Radio 1Xtra podcast. It was by far one of the best podcasts I’ve ever been involved in. The main aim is to really turn around and change the narrative of how schizophrenia is portrayed, especially within under-represented communities. Having been involved in the Eastenders storyline, it really allowed me to take a hold of that and aid in changing how the media portrays schizophrenia because that is where initially a lot of stigmas and misconceptions have come from in our society. So, I just thought, “What better way to turn something around, than turning it around from the root of where it has come from”.
It also has a part to play in why I started off in doing media volunteering. I always believed that if I wanted to reach that gap, then I had to do it in a way that didn’t just get attention from people who have involvement, indirectly or directly, in mental health charities. If I told my story just at mental health workshops, then those people in the mental health charities would definitely hear. However, those outside of those charities wouldn’t hear it and would be stuck with the same misconceptions.
Hype: Your amazing mantra is ‘Lemons into Lemonade’ – “When life throws you lemons: you have to learn to make lemonade, but you have to decide what type of lemonade to make, and then you have to accept peoples support with that lemonade”.
For a lot of young people, receiving a mental health diagnosis can feel a bit like being thrown a lemon at first. What is one piece of advice you’d give to help transform that diagnosis into lemonade?
António: One piece of advice I’d give to help transform a diagnosis into lemonade, would be to accept the lemons. You can either let those lemons hit you in the face, or you can grab those lemons and really use them to your advantage. For me, that was what helped me, I looked at my diagnosis and thought it would be a disadvantage to me forever. However, I then learned to grab those lemons being thrown at me, use them and squeeze them and turn them into lemonade. I am grateful for how much positivity opportunities have come to me as a result of my diagnosis, which is something I once saw as a disadvantage.
Hype: You also advocate for anti-racism in the mental health sector, as well as changing the way the UK approaches and handles mental illness. You said in your petition that you feel that your presence is for show rather than sincere authenticity. How can people contribute to the disruption of this present tokenistic narrative?
António: I would ask people to connect with me. Any ideas or potential opportunities to collaborate to disrupt that narrative, I will welcome with open arms. Secondly, you can sign my petition which is still live (at the bottom of this article). Thirdly, keep an eye on this space because there’s still a lot more disruption coming. Finally, don’t be afraid – that’s the main thing. Don’t be afraid to question or challenge whatever it may be, don’t just go with what is being offered to you because it sounds or looks great, because that is how you get caught in the bubble. See the deeper meaning behind it and don’t be afraid to call it out and challenge what you might feel is tokenistic. If it feels like you are alone, I am here with you. Check out my petition and campaigns, I am doing this with you and no one is alone in this challenge.
Hype: To close, what’s one goal you’ve got for this year?
António: There are quite a few goals I would like to achieve during this year. I would definitely like to get my story out in many more ways, whether that be through a documentary or even a book, that is something I really want to strive for. Getting my story and experience out in different formats is the main priority for this year for me.
António also has a petition, demanding senior leaders of mental health charities to take genuine accountability for their so-called anti-racist approaches, if you’d like to read more about it and/or sign, click here.