Tami Tsansai is a brave (and creative) advocate for mental health

 Tami Tsansai is a mental health advocate.
Tami Tsansai is a mental health advocate. (Photos: Dennis Brown)

Who is Tami Tsansai? She is the author of Hard Gal Fi Dead: Musings, Poems, Notes to Self that was launched in March.

And she is Tameka A. Coley, Director of Communications at the Jamaica Mental Health Advocacy Network, a freelance digital marketer and a many-faceted creative.

The petite young woman neatly dressed in black and white has a slightly shy smile, dangling red cherry earrings and a bright red backpack.

Tami's book Hard Gal Fi Dead: Musings, Poems, Notes to Self was launched in March.
Tami’s book Hard Gal Fi Dead: Musings, Poems, Notes to Self was launched in March.

A St Elizabeth native, Tami moved to the Corporate Area as a UWI student and has lived there ever since. With a Bachelor’s degree in Literatures in English under her belt, she worked in journalism (as a freelance writer and at the Jamaica Observer) and in the creative arts. Then she entered the advertising, events and marketing world.

“I do a whole bunch of creative stuff. I am a certified makeup artist. I do set design and food styling for shoots. Anything creative, I pretty much can do it!” she laughs. “I really love the arts. I like to connect to people and help people.”

Tami smiles as she shows off her book Hard Gal Fi Dead: Musings, Poems, Notes to Self.
Tami smiles as she shows off her book, Hard Gal Fi Dead: Musings, Poems, Notes to Self.

She began advocating on mental health issues in 2011 while struggling with her own mental health. The public reaction was quite negative.

“There was a lot of backlash…I was judged and stigmatised a lot because nobody was talking about it then,” she said.

“It took about three years of screaming in the dark before people started to be like, oh – I think she’s onto something,” she told BUZZ.

Tami was tired of the stigma. She says it is due to a lack of understanding and awareness.

Tami says many Jamaicans view mental illness in a negative way.
Tami says many Jamaicans view mental illness in a negative way.

“Because of that, there’s a fear. People think if you have a mental health challenge, you’re dangerous, a threat,” she said.

Tami decided to shift the narrative around it. She realised she would have to put herself out there.

“It wasn’t pleasant. But who better to talk about it than someone who is actually going through it? Maybe it would be more palatable coming from me,” Tami said.

Tami began advocating on mental health issues in 2011.
Tami began advocating on mental health issues in 2011.

She wanted to practise her writing too. She started to use her blog (#MindBeingWellness) as a tool for her advocacy.

Now, Tami and her team have a constructive relationship with the Ministry of Health and Wellness.

“I can see things are changing,” she says. “That’s even reflected in their new name.”

She is also working with the Bureau of Gender Affairs. Tami regularly talks with a whole range of audiences – a hallmark of her advocacy. On Mental Health Day, she is speaking at a suicide prevention seminar at UWI School of Nursing and a town hall discussion at Itopia Life.

Tami plans to expand her work on mental health locally and regionally.
Tami plans to expand her work on mental health locally and regionally.

“Personally, I am very optimistic and hopeful,” says Tami. She plans to expand her work locally and regionally. She wants to extend her UWI support group to reach every parish by the end of 2020. She is rebuilding her website.

Tami says mental health awareness is growing, but “we need to step up the pace. More open discussions need to happen, which we’re working on with the Ministry and Think Mental Health Jamaica.” She wants to discuss policies on “burnout,” in schools and workplaces, and time off for mental health.

 Hard Gal Fi Dead can be purchased at Bookophilia in Kingston or on Amazon.
Hard Gal Fi Dead can be purchased at Bookophilia in Kingston or on Amazon.

Tami’s simple advice to the family and friends of those living with mental illness is: “Try not to judge, be kind.”

Tami’s blog is at https://tsansai.wordpress.com.

Her website is www.tsansai.com.

Hard Gal Fi Dead is available on Amazon and at Bookophilia in Kingston (they will send copies island-wide).