Most of us are aware that the UK is in the grips of a mental health crisis. Even before COVID-19 shattered our support systems and overwhelmed an already struggling NHS, things were bad. What we’re less aware of, though, is who exactly has been bearing the brunt of this crisis. Beyond the statistics and the petitions and the Parliamentary debates, who are the people moving the needle each day, helping turn the tide of this catastrophe one person, one phone call, one conversation at a time? We wanted to find out. To mark Mental Health Month 2021, we asked four people from different mental health care professions to walk us through a typical day on the job. Here, Black Minds Matter co-founder Agnes Mwakatuma takes us through her daily routine and discusses how she sets boundaries and looks after herself while providing support for her community.
Trigger warning: This piece includes a mention of suicide.
As the UK’s Mental Health Foundation reports, the risk of psychosis in Black Caribbean groups is estimated to be seven times higher than in the white population. Between 2017 and 2018, the detention rates under the Mental Health Act were four times higher for Black people than white people, and suicide rates are higher among young men of Black African and Black Caribbean origin and among middle-aged Black African and Black Caribbean women than among their white counterparts. In other words, it’s clear that mental health care catered specifically to these groups is imperative.
This is where Black Minds Matter UK comes in, a mental health charity established by Agnes Mwakatuma and Annie Nash in response to the events of last summer and the impact they had on those within the diaspora.
The key mission for Black Minds Matter (BMM) is to make mental health services more accessible for Black communities. To achieve this, it connects Black people living in the UK with certified Black therapists and offers up to 12 sessions of much-needed free therapy. Already by December 2020, the team had raised £800,000 to fund 1,500 courses of therapy, and BMM is continuing to gain followers and secure support month on month – thanks in no small part to its co-founders.
Below, Agnes talks us through a typical day running BMM from home, and discusses how she looks after herself while providing vital support to her community at the same time.
5 a.m. I usually wake up between 5 and 6 a.m. If I woke up any later, BMM just wouldn’t get off the ground. I used to wake up at 4 actually, and in the winter I love waking up super early. I just find that those hours are just my hours to chill. Usually, I catch up on TV and then I get up and brush my teeth, wash my face, and have a shower.
6.30 a.m. Breakfast is around 6.30 or 7. Breakfast is my thing, I go all out. I have brunch every day. Today I had a piece of sourdough, bread, eggs and two turkey bacon rashers. And I hate to be that guy but I have avocado and some orange juice. For me, it's just important because I can ensure that I'm having as many nutrients as possible in the morning, and also just have that time to myself. Because as soon as I go online, that is it.
In the winter, I love waking up super early. I just find that those hours are just my hours to chill.
8 a.m. BMM has never actually had an office space and, during quarantine, I was staying at my mum’s in Swindon. I found the only way I could stay sane was by doing work in bed. But now I’m working with my therapist to try and have a more normal routine, so I make an effort to get up, have breakfast, and go on the table.
I don't work from a laptop, which always surprises people, I work from my phone. I means I don’t go on social media because I’m busy doing my work. I’ve not used a laptop for about 8 months now. I do all my presentations on my phone.
So, I split my day into four parts. My first priority is checking in with our clients, checking that weekly attendance is up to date, client agreements are signed, checking to ensure that there aren’t any safeguarding concerns and then seeing if we have any confirmed therapist matches or clients who are ready to start sessions.
I then spend roughly an hour looking into our fundraising efforts – right now it’s the the 21K challenge – and making sure we are reaching out to new brands, individuals, or organisations for support with the fundraising campaign. Our marketing manager Olivia and I have brief 20-30 minute meeting about this.
I don't work from a laptop, which always surprises people, I work from my phone. It means I don’t go on social media because I’m busy doing my work.
Then I usually spend most of the afternoon with our finance team, making sure therapist invoices are up to date or vetted, our budgets are being effectively managed, and that we are on track for any potential charitable finance-related updates.
3 p.m. I don’t stop for lunch usually, but since I'm working with my therapist to establish a more regular routine, I might have mini-breaks. That’s when I feel comfortable stepping away from work. I snack, go on Instagram – that’s it.
Throughout the day, I keep saying “I’ve got this.” I don’t like journalling but I love my notes app on my phone, and I always write lists of negative things that I may have said to myself throughout the day, and this came from my therapy. It's made me realise how many things we say to ourselves in passing throughout the day that we don't realise are consciously being planted in our minds.
4 p.m. At about 4 p.m., I slowly finish my day off by either speaking with therapists or going through any important collaborations or partnerships. Plus I check if there are any press emails that need my immediate attention.
5 p.m. I used to work until 8 p.m., which is not good. So now I’m very strict: when it gets to 5, I’m done – no more. It’s important to have boundaries with yourself. You might be able to pull off late nights some days but that’s just not sustainable. At the moment I'm trying to really manage having an effective work-life balance because I'm only as strong and healthy as my daily habits. If I burn out so badly that I can't get up or that my mental health deteriorates so badly, BMM would be pretty screwed.
Throughout the day, I keep saying “I’ve got this” ... I love my notes app on my phone, and I always write lists of negative things that I may have said to myself throughout the day ... It's made me realise how many things we say to ourselves in passing ... that we don't realise are consciously being planted in our minds.
6 p.m. I start making dinner, I have quite an early dinner. And then I watch TV and I just chill. After 5, I’m just like an unemployed queen!
I haven’t been exercising that much – I actually find it stresses me out more than it benefits me – but I do walk, I love a good walk in the evening. I try and always do 5,000 steps a day. I walk to the shop to get whatever I want for brunch the next day. My life actually revolves around brunch, because that’s the most exciting thing about most of my days.
8 p.m. I like meditation in the evening. And I like very silent meditations. I think because I grew up in a Christian household, prayer in the evening was so important, so I already have the attention span to meditate. I just set aside a moment of silence for about half an hour, and then it’s bedtime.
To read another piece in our Day In The Life Of series and find out what a typical day looks like for an NHS Community Mental Health Nurses, click here.