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Michelle Bhalroo

Michelle is a community development worker based in the West Midlands. Born in Dublin in the Republic of Ireland and raised in Omagh in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, she moved to Birmingham in 1995 and has lived there since.

Michelle became a mother at the age of 16. The community she lived in at the time was not very welcoming of young single mothers. This rejection contributed to her depression. Following the birth of her son, she experienced a long lasting bout of post-natal depression and she started using mental health services. Michelle’s experience has shown her what lack of support systems and understanding of mental health issues in the community can mean for young people.

Michelle started her career as a voluntary worker at Lion Farm Action Centre in Birmingham – a resource centre in the heart of a deprived community – where she did health promotion work across six towns in Sandwell. She was later elected on to the Board of Directors. She then worked as a night duty worker at a teenage mother and baby unit in Birmingham. The project was called “Get a Place” and helped young teenage mothers seek independence. Later she worked with the YMCA as a housing support officer, helping individuals from all backgrounds get access to supported housing.
 
It was then that she discovered more about the Irish community in Birmingham. She started working with the Irish Welfare Centre, providing people from the community with benefits advice, housing support and advice on health issues. It was here that she realised her passion for community work and applied for the job of Community Development Worker within the Delivering Race Equality Programme. She has been working as a CDW since then, a job that allows her to bring her experience of mental distress and mental health services and her knowledge of the specific needs of Irish communities together.

Michelle was the regional (West Midlands) chairperson of the CDW Network and has worked as the coordinator of the DRE National Ambassadors Programme. She now chairs Fan the Flames, a regional network of service users/survivors and carers from Black and minority ethnic communities in West Midlands.

Having dropped out of formal education as a teenager, Michelle has since then completed the Access to Higher Education course, and considers doing a degree soon. She has completed courses in community research in mental health (UCLAN) and management (Chartered Management Institute). She recently finished a research project – Eirim Mna – exploring the mental health needs of Irish women in Birmingham.

Michelle is passionate about making sure that the Irish community does not remain a hidden minority, and that statutory organisations do not to overlook the needs of the Irish community. She is also passionate about helping service users understand the power and rights that they have as consumers of mental health services.

Michelle is deeply connected with her Irish roots and sees herself as a wild Irish Shamrock. She lives in Birmingham with her husband and three sons. She is interested in music and arts, and has been known to dabble in creative writing, especially when feeling low. She makes sure that she has robust social networks and positive thinking people around her as this helps her keep well.