Reaching Out & Taking Care with Roxanne McCarthy

Includability Ambassador Tells Her Story of Bereavement and Spreading Xmas Cheer  

11 July 2022 | Author: Chris Taylor

For the majority of December 2020, Includability Ambassador and Transformation Office Analyst at Studio, Roxanne McCarthy was known as the Mental Health Elf.

It was an initiative supported by her employers at Studio and was supporting the mental health charity, Mind. Dressing as the Mental Health Elf allowed Roxanne to share her experiences and start conversations with her colleagues and visitors about mental health. She talks about her experience with bereavement and suicide with those who may be struggling.  

Her experience with dealing with loss and the emotional toll it takes on the mind began when she lost her grandfather. She found it difficult to come to terms with the loss to start with but found comfort in talking about her experiences and memories. It began a journey of recovery for her where sharing difficult experiences and connecting with others at the same time provided therapeutic effects.

Her mental health would soon be affected forever with the double tragedy of her father taking his own life, and her best friend taking her own life in 2020. The devastating events put mental health close to her heart and motivated her to join the Samaritans and encouraged others to speak about their mental health at work. She wanted to tell their stories to help others that may also be experiencing dark times in their life.

“My dad had taken his own life and my best friend took her own life in 2020 so it has always been something that's been close to my heart, supporting people and making sure people are well at work and looking after my own mental health.

“But it catapulted once my friend took her own life. It made me want to do something, do anything that can get those messages out and tell my story, to share bits of her story, that is what motivated me to join the Samaritans.”

These events were the key inspiration for wanting to continue mental health awareness during the pandemic. With normal mental health awareness events such as fun runs around her local park in Blackburn, which would have usually been organised, were still shut down due to the ongoing lockdown. The mental health elf idea felt like a good way of connecting with others during the festive season where times can feel bleakest for some.  

Roxanne initially intended to wear the elf costume for the 12 days leading up to Christmas, but the idea soon became a great success that she was keeping the costume on 24-hours a day and ended up lasting the full 31 days of December.  

Image of Roxanne in her Mental Health Elf costume holding a tablet reading 'When nothing goes right, go left'

The initiative was a big success at her workplace with others wearing elf hats, signifying they were willing to have difficult conversations about mental health. Even her boss agreed the initiative was having a positive impact around the office.

Mental health elf took off from there when they decided to post pictures on social media channels. Roxanne received messages of support from friends and colleagues when she told her story on her Facebook and Instagram, with post soon following from her employer’s accounts as well but was overwhelmed when she joined LinkedIn around that time and began posting her initiative and story there too.

She had not fully realised the positive power of social media and that motivated her to keep the initiative going after the end of each working day. Telling her experience, Roxanne said:  

“I did it initially for the 12 days and I shared different stories. After the 12 days because I was sharing it on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, which were really powerful networks I had never really tapped into before.

“For everybody to put on and people wearing the hats and after the 12 days I realised I was getting a lot of messages from friends and colleagues. Even my boss said this is amazing and it has had a really good impact and people are starting to have the difficult conversations.

“I was in my elf costume 24 Hours a day. I even had the costume on when I went to supermarkets and kids wanted to have pictures with me because they thought I was a real elf and just spreading that little bit of festive fun as well as having those serious conversations.”

Roxanne is wearing the Mental Health Elf costume and looking to a snow covered scene

Roxanne soon turned her passion for helping people experiencing tough times with their mental health to the professional space. There are many who suffer at work in silence or in fear of repercussion.

She hopes to reach other business online to understand how employers can help their employees with any issues they are facing. She says social media can be a powerful platform for communication and can reach people within a business that might otherwise have been overlooked.    

She says: “I wanted to get under the bonnet and talk to all the people in the business, not just from an educational point of view for me to understand them, but also give them a platform to share that story because you can see on social media how powerful that is when it's put in the business Let me stop and listen to that story.”

“If the people are not feeling well at work, they're not going to be performing to the best of their abilities.”

However, Roxanne does not want to confine her good work in helping people to workplaces. People can be struggling anywhere and at any time. One person cannot help the struggles of everyone, but if we can be inspired by someone doing their bit and be a little more vigilant for those facing a tough time. Small acts of kindness can reach further than one might think.

Roxanne said, “I want to do what I can. I can't change the world, but we can change one person's life with sharing one bit of information, or maybe being sat on the phone that the Samaritans once a week is changing somebody's life.”

Roxanne McCarthy is a Samaritans volunteer and an Includability Mental Health Ambassador and is available to any employer or job seeker to reach out to if you need help or advice around bereavement or suicide prevention. 

Roxanne is holding her rainbow umbrella and smiling