Content Warning: This blog contains sensitive content that may be distressing to some readers. Topics discussed include sexual assault, grief, and references to 9/11. Reader discretion is advised. If you find these subjects distressing or uncomfortable, we encourage you to prioritize your wellbeing and consider avoiding this content.
Mental Health First Aider Miosotys Santiago survived the 9/11 attacks in New York, narrowly escaping Tower One. Santiago reflected on her journey and the powerful impact of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) in her life.
Santiago’s journey to mental wellbeing began at a young age. At 13, her trauma and emotional turmoil were overwhelming after being sexually assaulted. She felt trapped in silence and found herself attempting suicide. As a result, she was placed in a psychiatric ward for eight long months, deemed unsafe to be left alone.
Santiago recounts, “Life has a way of testing us in unimaginable ways, and my journey through mental health struggles has been no exception. I’ve experienced the depths of despair and tragedy, but it’s these experiences that have given me a unique perspective on the importance of mental health and the profound impact of MHFA. MHFA could have saved me from much of the pain and grief I endured in my teenage years.”
Her journey is also marked by the enduring light of gratitude.
A New York City native, Santiago worked in security at the World Trade Center. On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, she was 40 minutes late to work after dropping her kids off at school. When she saw a plane hit Tower One, she ran toward it. Her fiancé was on the 93rd floor.
Santiago recounted, “That’s when a Port Authority police officer grabbed me and she said, ‘Where are you going?’ I said, ‘My fiancé is up there, I need to find him.’ She grabbed me and we ran for our lives. That day, I lost not only the love of my life, but I also lost friends, I lost my job, I lost my sense of freedom — I lost everything in a few hours. And that’s when my journey began,” she told The Day News.
Ultimately, surviving 9/11 and navigating profound loss and grief led Santiago to an overwhelming sense of gratitude. “I am thankful for the gift of life, for the privilege of watching my children grow and witnessing the birth of four beautiful grandchildren. Gratitude fills my heart for the friendships I’ve formed, the opportunities I’ve been granted, and the life I’ve built through a long healing journey. I attribute my survival to divine intervention, and my response has been to live a life steeped in gratitude,” she said.
A Turning Point: Mental Health First Aid
Becoming certified in Adult Mental Health First Aid was a pivotal moment in Santiago’s life. It not only rekindled her commitment to her own mental health care but also inspired her to pay it forward by helping others cope with their own circumstances. She is determined to dismantle the stigma surrounding mental health, and create a safe space where individuals can find reassurance without judgment.
“MHFA has significantly influenced my approach to coping with my own post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. I’ve taken accountability for nurturing my mental health, addressing areas of my life that were previously unattended. Through therapy and the MHFA training, I’ve learned to redirect triggers to healthier reactions and navigate both current challenges and unresolved issues from my past.”
Santiago noted that what struck her most about MHFA training was the “profound care” it extends to people living with mental health and substance use challenges. The training taught her how to handle situations and provided insight into mental health challenges – crucial during the post-pandemic era.
“This training has driven my passion for addressing mental health, focusing on healing through writing, especially for women, adults and teens dealing with trauma. As someone who now works closely with both teens and adults struggling with mental health, I can attest that MHFA is not just important; it’s a must for everyone.”
The Mental Health First Aider is now an author and speaker, focusing on post-trauma healing inspired by her personal experiences. She conducts workshops in her community to share hope and inspiration, emphasizing the importance of self-care for the mind, body and spirit. And she’s planning to train to be a MHFA Instructor, too.
“I currently stay connected and engaged with MHFA by reading their value-packed newsletters, and sharing these resources with others has become a part of my routine. Working in a hospital setting, I’ve advocated for bringing MHFA into our workplace to address the increasing mental health challenges. Applying what I’ve learned, I strive to offer comfort and support to individuals dealing with mental health and substance use challenges.”
Advice for Others Considering MHFA Certification
“Being a part of the MHFA community has been transformative. My outlook on life and people has evolved significantly. I no longer judge individuals, recognizing that everyone is in a different place in their mental wellbeing journey. This perspective shift extends to my personal life, fostering understanding and patience, including in my marriage. The MHFA community has equipped me with the tools to support others, fostering an environment of love, care and kindness, which is so important for breaking generational patterns and improving mental health on a broader scale,” she said.
“I wholeheartedly recommend MHFA training to every adult. In our workplaces and communities, we often encounter individuals dealing with mental health issues, and having the knowledge to respond compassionately is invaluable. I’ve personally referred several individuals from my church to MHFA and I’m excited to take the next step in my MHFA journey and become an instructor to further extend this vital knowledge to my community. My advice is simple: invest in MHFA training, empower yourself, and positively impact the lives of those around you.”
Gordon, S. (2021, April 26). Groton woman walks in memory of fiancee [sic] killed in 9-11 attacks. The Day. https://www.aol.com/groton-woman-walks-memory-fiancee-040100816.html?guccounter=1
Spinella, S. (2021, Sept. 10). Groton woman’s life altered irrevocably by 9/11. The Day. https://finance.yahoo.com/news/groton-womans-life-altered-irrevocably-003300898.html