Mental health: why our voice matters

Convinced that their fate was to rot within a mental health system with limited capacity to help, fi shell‘s return to community connection came down to one factor: they used their voice.

*CONTENT WARNING: This article is about suicide

DURING THE first wave of COVID lockdowns, my life began to change. For the best.

In December 2019, after escaping domestic violence, I survived the worst suicide attempt I have ever experienced in a 13-year battle with suicidal ideation. Shortly after that, I found myself trapped in an evacuation center on the south coast of New South Wales as the Black Summer fires threatened to decimate the region that had been my home for more than 30 years.

Escaping the fire front, driving as fast as I dared down the recently reopened Princes Highway at midnight on New Year’s Eve, I knew something in my life desperately needed to change.

When the COVID lockdowns eased, I was not afraid of the social isolation that gripped many in our community. National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participant only since August 2019, settling into my new Bathurst place, not knowing where to go for support, I was justifiably worried about where I would find food and the risk of homelessness I found . versus. But years of social isolation and disconnection had desensitized me to the loss of social connection that so many others were dealing with.

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I did what I could. I had already signed up for voice classes at the local conservatory, joined a choir, and auditioned for a local community theater production. I kept myself busy during lockdown with projects I’d wanted to focus on for many years but never had the confidence to see them through, interspersed with binge-watching Netflix and catching up with family and friends on the phone and zooming in. in far distances. .

I joined social media networking groups for the careers I had trained for, but I was scared to believe I might be a good fit. I started struggling with audio and video editing, submitting digital auditions for upcoming projects. I started to develop a business platform that I hoped would create opportunities to work for myself. I even found myself throwing out my own creative ideas.

As the world began to open up once again, so did my opportunities to connect with the local community and communities further afield. I found myself cast in a leading role in a production of Shakespeare and was invited to participate in the paid co-design development of a suicide prevention outreach team for the region I had previously been forced to flee.

I was commissioned to produce a community storytelling event that challenged the stigma around mental health experiences through the sharing of lived experience stories from inspiring people who understood what it was like to struggle and thrive, through and beyond the lens of the “mental illness”. I shared my own story too. He was learning what it was to raise his voice.

As the world continued to expand, I found myself with more opportunities to work, create, write, speak, and even act. But 18 months after this incredible turnaround, I found myself reeling when the penny finally fell. An engagement at which I had been invited to speak positioned me and every other speaker at the conference as leaders in “mental health reform.”

Of course, I knew this was the field I was contributing to, but the empowerment of what I had been doing took my breath away. I wondered how I had found myself here, when not two years earlier, I was convinced that it was my destiny to rot inside a mental health system that had limited resources and capacity to help me. It all came down to one factor: I used my voice.

The National Lived Experience (Peer-to-Peer) Workforce Development Guidelines, published by the National Mental Health Commission (NMHC) in December 2021, draw attention to the reality that for many:

Accessing services, particularly involuntarily, includes giving up a degree of control and autonomy. Returning to your own agency can be a long and difficult process and is not something that people are taught to do. As a result, people accessing services can sometimes develop what is known as a ‘patient identity’, taking a more passive role in decisions and becoming overly dependent on the opinions of others.

This was a reality that had become so ingrained in my own life that the only way I would unknowingly get over it would be to isolate myself in a community that didn’t know me in the middle of a pandemic. , forcing me to return to my own inner resources.

This process taught me a lot, not only about my own ability to rise, but also about the systemic nature of the obstacles that reactivated narratives of disempowerment that no human being can overcome alone.

Finding networks of fellow travelers and walking together in solidarity has allowed me to withstand blow after blow, given to many of us in the LGBTQI+ community; our fellow First Nations; those experiencing domestic violence; homeless people and others forced to navigate aged care, welfare and social services like Centrelink and the NDIS, while fighting stigma, discrimination and bureaucracy.

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Not surprisingly, many have felt disillusioned in the week leading up to the Federal Election, questioning whether our voices will be heard or even matter.

However, as someone who has learned to embrace the power of using one’s voice to engender deep thought and inspire social change, I remain cognizant of the fact that we live in a country where our collective voices intertwine through the fabric of our society and politics. worlds

Most of us know the difficulties. We know what we want to change and why.

When we do our homework, understand the platforms of the parties we lean toward, and make our assessments based on strengths and weaknesses and not the flippancy of PR machines, we imbue our voices with the power of social change.

As we await the full result, having voted in this Federal Election, I will remember what it is to be treated with dignity and respect.

Our voices do matter.

If you want to talk to someone about suicide, you can call the Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Fi Peel works independently as a life experience based mental health recovery specialist. You can follow Fi on Twitter @f_peel.

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