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April 27, 2020

Breaking the Stigma Around Mental Illness

Jenny Smith

Breaking the Stigma Around Mental Illness


Jenny Smith

Jenny talks about making a difference through disability advocacy.

Content warning: Mentions mental illness, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety.

I have grown up in a family where mental illness has played a big part of my life, my late father was diagnosed with schizophrenia back in 1992 in the days where no one really talked about it, so it was very hard for us to find the appropriate help and services that we needed. In 1998 my sister was diagnosed with schizophrenia, anxiety and depression Although it was 6 years later there still was not the information and services around like there is now.

When I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety I was lucky enough to be given a medication that helped quickly. However, my own life journey has not always been easy.

 Throughout primary and high school, I was bullied and never had many friends. I found school work too difficult and no help was ever offered for my failing marks, so I did not bother too much about doing homework or handing in assignments. In my work life when I was older, I was always in and out of jobs, courses and government programs. I did training that was meant to help me find work or gain skills to get a job, but when I applied no one would ever give me a chance to prove myself.  I got rejection after rejection. I even tried going to university as a mature age student to start a teaching degree but I failed at that too so I made the decision to leave after one year.

"I did not realise all those years ago the answer of how I could make a contribution to society and lead a fulfilling life was staring me right in the face."

I started out on my journey in 2015. All I was doing then was going to a local advocacy group meeting once a month, attending some mental health workshops and a support group within a carer service so I can learn how to deal with my sisters’ mental health challenges. That’s all I was planning to do, but gradually more and more doors started to slowly open for me. I linked in with a mental health educator program and started doing talks about my lived experience for different organisations. I then started to work as a telephone support service volunteer in which I spent over 2 years on the phones every week talking to clients that have limited social support due to their own mental illness.  I joined the consumer committee after a two day training course on advocacy skills and more recently I became a board of director for a non-profit organisation.

Over the last 5 years I have attended many educational workshops and courses through recovery colleges and other organisations that focus on mental health training. I have learnt a lot of new skills and have done training in so many different areas including mentoring, peer support, trauma, leadership, advocacy skills, understanding mental illnesses, suicide, the list is endless. I have also met many amazing people along the way, and some of them have become very good friends.

I have been lucky enough to attend a few conferences and symposiums too.  I find they are another great way of learning more and meeting people. Unfortunately, most of them are expensive so it limits how many of them I can go to, but I am grateful that some offer places for consumers to attend free or at a low cost.

Doing volunteer work in the sector has helped me understand more about what people go through and the struggles they face with mental illness and their recovery. I spent a year in one friendship program and have just linked in with a similar program with another organisation. I joined a youth mentoring program in which last year I was able to assist a young person with her own mental health issues to access appropriate ongoing support.  

I've applied for quite a few committees over the years and while I have not been successful with all my applications I keep trying whenever new opportunities arise. I am currently part of the Local Health District and Primary Health Network committees, I continue to be involved with consultations, co-design workshops, online forums and other smaller projects relating to the disability/mental health sector.

So I guess after reading all of that you are probably asking what will I do next. To be honest I do not even know the answer to that but I do know this - it’s been one of the best journeys I've had over the last 5 years. I've had some ups and downs along the way but it has given me the chance to grow as a person and learn more about myself, my strengths, and weaknesses. It’s given me a real purpose in life to do something I am very passionate about and make a difference.

If you are thinking about suicide or experiencing a personal crisis, help is available.
Call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or chat to someone online (external link).

This content has a custom transcript:

This story is tagged under:

Life Choices
Taking Part
Sex and Your Body
Safety and violence

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