Q&A with 2021 Janey Award Winner Nkasi Stoll

16/11/2021

Each year, at our Members' Day, we pick out some of the amazing work done by our supporters and commend them for the difference they’ve made to the lives of people severely affected by mental illness. This Q&A is shining the spotlight on the winner of our Janey Antoniou award, Nkasi Stoll. We caught up with Nkasi to find out a bit more about the inspiring work she’s been doing over the last 12 months.

Congratulations, Nkasi! Tell us what it means to win the Janey Antoniou Award.

Thank you! I worked for Rethink Mental Illness for a year after I graduated university back in 2014 so to win this award now, I feel very grateful. I know 21-year-old me would be proud.

Can you tell us a bit about your experience of mental illness?

My mental health declined when I was 14 because I started struggling with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (undiagnosed and untreated). I became anxious and depressed, and in university became suicidal. I didn’t know what was happening to me or how to ask for help so I used some harmful ways to cope. Years later I found a GP who prescribed me anti-depressants and I later started therapy. I still struggle with chronic suicidal thoughts and ideation and PTSD, but I have supportive friends, partner, family, and a great therapist!

You were highly commended for your amazing work in setting up Black Students Talk to support Black students with their mental health at university. Why was it so important for you to set up this group?

Black Students Talk is the community I needed when I was a scared and unwell undergraduate student. In 2019 Yannick Yalipende asked me to join him in setting up Black People Talk, a non-profit organisation that designs, delivers, and evaluates mental health and wellbeing peer support groups, workshops and training for Black people and allies. Black Students Talk is a supportive community where Black university students can unpack our traumas and celebrate our successes.

For many of us Black Students Talk is the only space we can be our authentic unapologetic selves without fear of judgement, gaslighting, silencing from non-Black students and staff. We collaborate with, equip, and empower Black students with the tools and confidence to take care of themselves and others mentally.

What do you think needs to change within the mental health system to better support Black people who are living with mental illness?

We need more investment of resources into Black-led mental health support interventions. All interventions should be co-created with the Black community the intervention seeks to support. Collaborations between the NHS, university professional services, community organisations, places of employment, schools would be a great way to share knowledge and resources.

Finally, we need more research, conducted by Black researchers, exploring the experiences of Black people with mental illnesses, especially Black people who experience multiple forms of marginalisations.

The work you’ve been doing is really inspiring. What else have you got coming up over the next 12 months?

I hope to finish my PhD and become a Dr in Psychological Medicine Research so I can continue to support Black students to tell their stories and encourage universities to listen and improve mental health support for their Black student community. At Black Students Talk we believe with the right support, materials and resources Black students can live happy, healthy lives therefore, I hope to co-create free and accessible psychoeducational resources.

I am also writing a book on my mental illness journey, alongside anonymised stories of Black students navigating university, accompanied by discussions about the interplay between race, racism, identity, intersectionality and mental health inequality. I am writing for Black university students who need a book to speak to their experiences.

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