A Co Antrim student nurse who has been crowned Miss Northern Ireland has said she wants to use her new platform to shine a spotlight on the need for better education around mental health, particularly for children and young people.
Daria Gapska (20), who currently works as a ward clerk in Holywell Hospital, said that while great strides had been made in raising awareness in recent years, she felt more could be done to educate people about the differences between mental health and mental illness.
And the Ballymena beauty queen, who wants to work in the field of children’s mental health, said she also planned to advocate for better services for young people.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph following her triumph at the beauty pageant at the Europa Hotel on Monday night, Daria, a first-year nursing student at Queen’s University, said: “The one big thing I’ve learned since I started working in Holywell is that everybody has mental health, but not everyone has mental illness.
“Over the past few years a lot of progress has been made in Northern Ireland in promoting mental health care, but if someone is struggling and is ill, telling them to spend time with friends or to listen to some music won’t help.
“If you have a mental illness, doing these things won’t be enough. Sometimes clinical intervention and support is needed.
“In my role as ward clerk, I am the first point of contact for patients, families and staff and while I don’t provide clinical care, I do have to know how to react to situations and how to delegate.
“I work with people who have emotional disorders, eating disorders and psychotic episodes and I’d really like to educate people about these illnesses, to advocate for the patients and be there for them, making a difference to their lives.”
Daria said she loves her job, despite its challenges, and eventually wants to specialise in mental health care for children. She also said that she is keen to raise awareness about children’s mental health and the need for better provisions.
“I do think that children’s mental health tends to be overlooked a bit in Northern Ireland. This is something I feel strongly about — that it’s not acknowledged enough.
“Symptoms of mental illness in children and adults can look very different and it might just appear like a child is misbehaving. But if there’s a pattern, it could be a mental illness that the parents aren’t aware of. I’d like to use my platform to shed more light on that.”
Daria, who has one older brother, plans to take the year off from work now to focus on her new role as Miss Northern Ireland, but will return to her job and her nursing degree when her reign is over.
Before taking the top spot in the final, she was named Miss Nu Delhi. In order to win the overall title, she fought off competition from 23 other finalists.
Daria will now go on to represent Northern Ireland at the 71st Miss World pageant and said she was looking forward to her year ahead.
“I’ve never done anything like this before, although I did sometimes think about it.”
“I remember walking past the Europa last year and seeing all the finalists and thinking how great it would be to have the confidence to enter, but I never thought I would.
“Then someone reached out to me on Instagram and I decided to give it a go, but I never thought I’d win.
“It’s such an honour and I’m so excited about what the year holds for me.”
Daria said she was aware that beauty pageants were considered by some critics as outdated and irrelevant, but that this wasn’t the case.
“If I hadn’t won Miss Northern Ireland this year, I wouldn’t have this amazing platform to raise awareness about things that mean something to me,” she said.
“I recently returned to my old school, St Patrick’s in Ballymena, to talk about the charity Bravehearts NI and the pupils were really engaged when I mentioned Miss Northern Ireland.
“And if I look good while using this brilliant platform, well, that’s good for my self-confidence and belief.”
Lucy Johnston (19), from Armagh, was runner-up to Daria, while Poppy Smith from Belfast came third.
Daria was passed the crown from Miss NI 2021 Anna Leitch. Anna took part at this year’s Miss World competition, at which she went on to place within the top six and was crowned Miss World Europe.
Miss World 2022, Karolina Bielawska from Poland, travelled to Belfast to join the esteemed judges at this year’s competition.