Mental health services for marginalised women
By Geraldine Esdaille,
Inspired by her own experience, Anna Wardley was awarded a Churchill Fellowship in 2019 to carry out research into the support for children bereaved by parental suicide. Since then, her work in this area has grown from strength to strength. In 2022 supported by her Fellowship work and connections she had made, Anna set up the Luna Foundation to transform the way young people are supported after suicide bereavement, particularly after the death of a parent or primary caregiver.
"I describe being a Churchill Fellow as a bit like having a superpower, the combination of your mission to make meaningful and lasting change in an area you are passionate about combined with the backing of the credibility and expertise of the Churchill Fellowship is just unbeatable.”
Passion and social issues
A passionate believer in how those with lived experience can bring social issues to the fore, Anna spoke to us about her own personal Fellowship journey and the advice she would give to people thinking of applying. We started our discussion with Anna talking about how she first came across the Fellowship when scrolling on social media and that seeing a post promoting the opportunity had captured her imagination. The once in a lifetime chance to travel to different parts of the world, to research into an issue that you are passionate about changing, was too good for Anna to miss.
Anna explains how she decided on the right topic to put forward even though she was close to the application deadline when she found out about the Fellowship. “I knew I wanted to propose a research idea in the suicide bereavement area as that’s my life mission due to my lived experience of losing my dad to suicide when I was nine and the impact it had on me and those around me. I had a few ideas to start with which I talked about with trusted friends and then settled on one – improving the support for children who are bereaved by parental suicide. It was the idea that resonated with me most as obviously it is very personal to me. And as I delved more into the subject, I realised that, so little had changed in the last 30 years since my experience and that fired me on even more.”
The importance of sharing and learning
While Anna doesn’t have an academic background in research what she quickly came to realise when she started exploring the subject was the amazing reception she got from organisations when she reached out to them. “People were eager to speak with me, to host me and share their knowledge. I just hadn’t fully appreciated the kudos and credibility that is attached to a Churchill Fellowship on a global scale. It really does give you the passport to approach people and they are all so willing to help.
“Before my interview I did carry out quite a lot of research – I’m an endurance swimmer so preparation is everything to me. The more I did, the more I realised what an amazing opportunity the Fellowship could be, that it could be a complete gamechanger for me. So, by the time I got to my interview I was totally invested and utterly terrified that I might not get it. I knew that there were so many people applying with amazing ideas. When I got the letter saying I had been successful, I literally fell to my knees in Gosport High Street.”
Anna was awarded her Fellowship in 2019 and was luckily able to carry out her travels prior to the pandemic, coming back from Denmark literally as the country closed its borders. Throughout her life Anna has travelled extensively, so she found planning for her trip reasonably easy. But she did offer some advice about things she hadn’t thought about – particularly about how emotionally gruelling the trip might be. From her own experience she found going to various part of the world, speaking repeatedly about a deeply personal issue brought to the surface decades of unprocessed grief. Anna was volunteering on grief camps supporting girls who had recently been bereaved by suicide and hadn’t appreciated how tough that would be for her.
“I would definitely recommend to those with lived experience who are researching a deeply personal topic to have their eyes wide open to this. Have a plan in place of where and when you can access support during your travels. As people are mainly travelling on their own and can be in different time zones to home, this is really important. The team at the Fellowship were great and always available. It can be full on having a month on the road being immersed in such a personal subject so I would suggest just thinking about gaps in the schedule for self-care. If I did it again, I think I would build in professional supervision.”
Anna believes that the passion, motivation and drive that those with lived experience have can make them some of the best Fellows. “There are so many people who have lived experience of the social causes we need to focus on, it’s just so valuable what they can bring. I would encourage anyone who is thinking about applying for a Fellowship to go for it - 100%. There is no other comparable opportunity out there – it’s such a fantastic platform for your passion.”
The power of a Churchill Fellowship
She also stressed that if anyone thinking about applying is feeling a bit daunted, they should not be put off as there is help every step of the way. Reflecting on what the Fellowship has meant to her and what she would say to anyone thinking of applying, Anna concluded. “If anyone had told me three years ago that I would have completed my Fellowship, founded and be running my own charity, I simply would not have believed them. If I can do it, you can. I describe being a Churchill Fellow as a bit like having a superpower, the combination of your mission to make meaningful and lasting change in an area you are passionate about combined with the backing of the credibility and expertise of the Churchill Fellowship is just unbeatable.”
The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.
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