Richie Perera is the Founder of Mental Health and Life, an organisation aimed at raising awareness of mental health in the UK. He talks to us about his journey from dealing with depression and anxiety after liquidating his first business, to understanding how it was all meant to be.
How did you end up sitting where you are today?
Everything started after I visited the doctor with sleep problems.
After a series of appointments, I was diagnosed with mixed depression and anxiety disorder.
The realisation that I had lived with mental illness - fluctuating from mild to severe - since my teens, and without any help or support, shocked me.
In my mind, my perception of mental illness was "for weak people", and I considered myself a "strong person". I felt exempt from having such a thing as a mental illness.
I set up Mental Health and Life to prevent another person from having to go through the same.
What kind of work does your role involve?
My works revolve around making mental health a subject spoken about as freely as the common cold, in every household, every school and workplace encompassing all genders, ages and cultures.
My mission is to raise awareness on Mental Health First Aid, focusing on the fact that mental health and life go hand-in-hand and cannot be whole without one another. I do this by delivering mental health first aid courses and consultancy to individuals and businesses, ensuring that humans come first for both people and organisations to flourish.
What gets you excited about your industry?
So many things!
The Coronavirus and the lockdown have done more for mental health than any other factor in raising awareness. It has bought mental health as a topic inside every household in the UK, and Mental Health First Aid is due to become an obligation for all UK organisations, in the same way as First Aid At work.
Finally, after 40yrs, mental health will be on par with physical health and - in my opinion - they should never have been separated at all; as "health" is a combination of both.
In 2021 we are on the brink of a much-needed mental health revolution.
What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?
The best advice anyone ever gave me is to surround myself with like-minded people. People with similar goals and outlooks to life will help you grow into the purpose that life intended for you. It's only when you truly find and understand your purpose can you be whole as a human.
This advice is the reason why I left the high-end corporate world and got into mental health. As a person, I feel deep empathy towards others and feel my best if I can do something to help. That is why I decided to create Mental Health and Life because the work I do makes me feel whole. If I can save one person's life through my work, I feel I would have found my true purpose.
What, or who inspires you?
The field I work in has so many inspirational people. Mental Health is a broad field, and there are so many heroes playing their part in their sector.
Greta Thunberg, Amal Clooney, Jacinda Ardern, and Captain Tom Moore are my biggest inspirations in the bigger picture.
I genuinely feel the world would be a better place if we can learn and follow these individuals' ethos.
How do you keep up to speed with what's happening in the industry?
On a professional level, I stay up to date on my CPD and am currently doing a course with Yale University on wellbeing, and a course based on men's mental health called the Awakened Man.
On top of that, I read a lot and write articles to get the conversations flowing, which helps me learn from other people and get viewpoints from different reference frames.
I am also a qualified Mental Health First Aid Instructor with Mental Health First Aid England, the leading light in staying current with everything mental health.
What was the most challenging project or assignment you've worked on?
My life has seen many ups and downs, a few years ago I had to liquidate my first company which I started from university into a booming business with over 50 staff. The Brexit vote killed the business as 70% of my clients were European. The process of that liquidation started my sleep issues and resulted in my diagnoses for mixed depression and anxiety disorder.
Nonetheless, I now see it was all meant to be, and life was always going to lead me to where I am now, enabling me to be involved in something much more meaningful. It was always meant to happen!
You finish work today and step outside the office to find a lottery ticket that ends up winning $10 million. What would you do?
I think I would own up to the fact that I found it and find its true owner.
It would bother me, and I would never be comfortable with the fact that it was not meant for me.
However, I hope the real winner would at least buy me a drink out of it -
shall we call it a finders fee?!
How do you switch off after a day at work?
I plan my week meticulously, and I plan it around my wellbeing.
I have switch-off points throughout the day whenever I can as it's been proven that it's good for productivity and it shows in my work. I have to practice what I preach at the end of the day too.
I try not to work on weekends and make time for my partner, daughter and granddaughter. I run or walk 5K, and practice yoga and meditation daily. I love reading too.
If you had one wish for the future of your industry, what would it be?
That it's importance is understood and by every single person and organisation in the UK. Mental health is the only way the UK will get back on its feet and boom again!
Through mental health first aid within the workplace and everyday life, we can set a better future for generations to come and get the nation and economy back on its feet! Without mental health first aid, the journey back will be much more challenging and more prolonged; in fact, we may never make it back. We all need to understand this!
What book or podcast should everyone know about?
Wow, where do I start?!
A Very Short History of the World, Geoffrey Blainey
Rich Dad Poor Dad Poor Dad, Robert Kiyosaki
I could go on!
For Podcasts I enjoy, Simon Blake's Just About Coping and Throwing Shade by Erin Gibson and Bryan Safi.
How should people connect with you?
You can connect with me via any of the following:
Website – mentalhealthandlife.org
Linkedin – Richie Perera
Mental Health and Life Social Media
Facebook and Twitter @mhlcharity
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