'How I was inspired to become a mental health champion' - volunteer speaks out in memory of her friend

A mental health champion has told of how she was inspired to take up her role by a young woman who spent much of her life helping others whilst living with anxiety and depression.

Peppe Sloane, a volunteer coordinator with housing provider Riverside and Engage Leeds housing support service, advocates mental health support in the workplace - and she does so with Sophia Theobald in mind.

Fia, as she was fondly known, was a striking model and aspiring mental health nurse, who gave much of her time to helping others in need.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

In July last year, she became so overwhelmed by her illnesses that she took her own life.

Sophia Theobald. Picture supplied by her family.

Fia, who had met Ms Sloane in 2016 when she began volunteering with Riverside in Leeds, had submitted an application to become a mental health champion for the organisation in the weeks leading up to her death. It was a role she sadly was never able to fill.

Ms Sloane said: "Sophia was very passionate about mental health. She wrote out her application with such pride but unfortunately Sophia took her own life before this could be a reality.

"Inspired by her work, since Sophia’s sad passing I have taken on the role of a Mental Health Champion within Riverside.

"Meanwhile, Riverside as an organisation have also signed the Time to Change pledge which promotes the importance of talking about mental health in the work place to remove the stigma and of holding peer support sessions for our staff and volunteers."

Peppe Sloane.

Two members of staff in the organisation are now trained in mental health first aid, meaning someone is always there to listen.

Ms Sloane said: "There is a stigma [around mental health] in the workplace and Sophia felt that prior to working with us. Many times she had gone and sat in the toilet and cried because she felt awful and couldn't tell anybody.

"No one should feel like that."

Fia, 27, from Lupset, Wakefield, helped organise events for homeless people including an arts and craft session which meant service users could create and send handmade cards to thank family, friends and support workers who had helped them.

With Ms Sloane, she also set up a course to give people the skills and knowledge they needed to help maintain a tenancy when they moved into their own accommodation, including helping them to prepare home cooked food.

She was also trained to deliver sexual health advice to 13 to 24-year-olds and worked as part of a team to set up Engage Leeds.

Ms Sloane said: "Sophia was funny, kind and compassionate. She always wanted to help others. I will never forget her, ever."

The 42-year-old added: "The benefits of volunteering are immense. Even if you are struggling with your own mental health or loneliness and isolation, getting out there and doing something that makes you feel good by helping someone else can really help."

Ms Sloane has shared her story as Fia's family and friends continue to raise money in her memory to help people living with mental illnesses.

They have formed the Fia Not Campaign and are raising £5,000 to get the Wakefield-based community group, which has the aim of becoming a charity, established and helping others.

Fia Not will help young people in crisis, giving them the support they need and signposting them to services. The organisation will also challenge issues in the current mental health support system and plans also include setting up a safe house for those struggling, a haven for them to turn to in times of need.

Around £3,000 has been raised so far - and more fundraising events, including a jumble sale and Christmas dinner in Leeds, are planned over the coming months.

The flagship event will be Viva La Fia, a music festival taking place at Warehouse 23 in Wakefield on October 6.

Fia's mum Jaquie Hanson, who has set up the group, said: "I just want to say a massive thank you to everyone who has supported us so far. It has been amazing."