No More Martyrs' logo.No More Martyrs' logo. (Photo courtesy of Nadia Richardson).Janvi Jani - Staff Writer

No More Martyrs, a local mental health awareness campaign and organization, recently received a $25,000 grant from UAB at the Community Health Innovation Awards to fund its Mosaic Mental Health Awareness Project.

Kaleidoscope spoke to Nadia Richardson, Ph.D., the founder of No More Martyrs. 

Richardson, who has a background in diversity education, became involved in mental health awareness as a graduate student when she was doing research for her dissertation on the experiences of black female students with mental health concerns.

“The things I learned from the research, and the need for understanding diversity and mental health in different ways really launched my interest in mental health awareness and incorporating disability, especially mental health disabilities in conversations,” Richardson said. “We need to have these conversations, and have them on a regular basis in order to dismantle stigma.”

She started working towards mental health awareness from that point onwards, but the launch of No More Martyrs took place when Karen Washington passed away from suicide. Washington was the founder of For Brown Girls, a movement against discrimination, racism and insecurity, and, according to Richardson, had a strong following. 

“When she passed away, it caught people off guard because she was beautiful, educated and motivated. She had everything going for her,” Richardson said. “I started to see a lot of conversations about it, especially online. The conversations went on for a while, and Karen was on the news for a couple of weeks, and then she wasn’t.” 

In response, Richardson started No More Martyrs to “start conversations, and have ongoing conversations” about mental health issues and awareness.

“I read an article where someone said, ‘Karen will always be remembered as a martyr,’” Richardson said. “But the thing is that we don’t need them anymore. You don’t need to be a martyr and keep all those mental health issues inside of you.” 

No More Martyrs started a year ago as an online community intended to provide support for African American women with mental health issues. It currently has roughly 3,000 supporters on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The organization provides free online webinars to provide mental health support. They hope to start a new blog and eventually become a nation-wide campaign with chapters around the country. 

The grant from UAB will be used to fund The Mosaic Mental Health Project. The project will provide monthly mental health awareness training, called Mental Health First Aid, through a collaboration with six churches in the Birmingham area. It will also host monthly on-site support for church and community members.

The organization has already collaborated with four churches, including the St. John AME Church located in the Civil Rights District near 16th Street Baptist Church, Worship Center Christian Church, Greater Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church and Sixth Avenue Baptist Church. The St. John AME Church is the primary church involved with the project, as well as the No More Martyrs’ community partner.

According to Richardson, many individuals with mental health issues, especially women, use church as a support system. 

“In my study, women I interviewed said, ‘my pastor told me to pray harder, or to be a better Christian,’” Richardson said. 

However, Richardson strongly believes that pastors and other church members have to first be trained to give support and advice to those suffering with mental health concerns. 

“There should be no shame in utilizing other services. For example, if you have diabetes, you’ll still go pray but you’ll also continue treatment. Mental health works the same way,” Richardson said. “The pastors and church leadership must be trained first to dismantle stigma associated with mental health illness.”

Mental Health First Aid is an evidence-based training program consisting of an eight-hour instruction that teaches individuals how to identify symptoms, assess situations and come up with an action plan to direct those with mental health concerns to the appropriate resources and services. 

Mental Health First Aid is highly supported by the White House and also funded by Congress. While it normally comes with a fee of that can range from $25 to $60, the organization will use the grant’s funds to make the training program free for the first year.

Richardson plans to start by training the pastors and church leaders in Mental Health First Aid before reaching out to train members of the congregation and community. Her goal is to train 2,000 individuals before January 2017.

The monthly on-site support groups will begin once the first aid training for the church leaders is completed. The support groups are set to provide information, resources and support for those with mental health concerns or those who have a loved one with mental health concerns. The attendees can share experiences and get advice.

While the support group does not prescribe medication or provide therapy, it directs those in need of those services. The support groups will be conducted by licensed professionals and peer support specialists. A peer support specialist is “someone who lives with a mental health concern and uses his or her own experience to give support to others,” according to Richardson.

“We want to use the support groups to let people know that you are not alone, and that you’re capable, you’re beautiful, and you’re going to get through this,” Richardson said. “A lot of times, people just want to talk to someone, and support is first step to get to a place where they can get services and resources.”

Richardson also shared the long term goals for the project. Once the grant is complete, she hopes to have “interracial, cross-cultural participation” in order to have “that conversation” with all the communities and churches. 

Richardson also had a message for UAB students. 

“I want UAB students to know that they have so much power to become a Mental Health advocate,” Richardson said. “A lot of times, people think there it nothing I can do, but making yourself aware, and educating yourself on what mental health is and what is looks like and what it means to be a support system, you can impact someone’s life in a positive way.”

She encouraged all students to get involved with Active Minds at UAB, a student-led organization dedicated to raising mental health awareness among college students. 

“You don’t have to be a licensed professional to be an advocate,” Richardson said. “All you have to do is be supportive, and be an empathetic human being.”