This story is part of a series written by mental health carers in which they share how they became participants, influencers and leaders in the NSW mental health sector, in hopes of encouraging other carers to do the same. See the full series, and learn more about the project.
In 2000, my son was diagnosed with bipolar at the age of 28, after many years of being unwell. Through this, I was to start my journey as a mental health carer. This involved finding and locating local mental health carer support services; I was fortunate enough to locate the Central Coast Arafmi, which had the Family and Carer Support Program at the time. Through this association I went from a carer concerned about my family to one who had the role of leader for mental health carers across the coast. So began my mental health advocacy roles: I became the President of Central Coast Arafmi then President of Mental Health Carers NSW followed by President of Mental Health Carers Australia, participating in increasing the voice of the mental health carers, advocating for policy and procedure changes, and for lived experience to be seen as a valuable and necessary qualification if we are to make the changes needed in the mental health system.
In 2010 I gained my Certificate IV in Mental Health then in 2013 a Diploma of Disability. These both worked in well with my employment as a Support Worker, but also in my journey towards healing. As we know, the impact of caring affects many aspects of our lives and to learn to manoeuvre through the mental health system means to arm ourselves with education and knowledge of mental illness and our role as mental health carers.
As a member of the National Mental Health Consumer and Carer Forum, and also newly appointed to the National Register of Mental Health Consumer and Carer Representatives, I am kept up to date with what is happening on a national level. I also participate as a chair on working groups who undertake work outside of meeting times as well as receiving newsletters from Mental Health Australia to keep us informed on what is happing regarding issues within mental health and services. I recently attended the 'Towards Elimination of Restrictive Practices 11th National Forum' in Perth including the launch of National Principles to Support the Goal of Eliminating Mechanical and Physical Restraint in Mental Health Services and National Principles for Communicating about Restrictive Practices with Consumers and Carers. Both were developed by the Restrictive Practice Working Group of the Safety and Quality Partnership Standing Committee.
I believe strongly that NSW should be committed to the rights and dignity of those who live with mental ill health, to allow them to have access to the best health care we can provide - regardless of social status, religion, country of origin or age, to name a few.
Over the years I have spoken at GP conferences on behalf of mental health carers; taken part in the National Mental Health Commission’s 2013 report “A Contributing Life” by making a video on supporting a brother, who I sadly lost to suicide in 2008; put in hours of unpaid work; racked my brain; and been a member on several working groups – all of which have helped increase my personal strengths. At the moment I serve on Mental Health Carers NSW groups as Co –Chair of the Peak Advisory Committee, Chair of Alcohol and Drug Peak Advisory Committee and Chair of the Older Person Peak Advisory Committee. I have had endless conversations with like-minded colleagues and I can say that although this is an environment which brings many challenges, it also brings hope for there are many who will stand up for all people’s rights and for the dignity of those who live with and care for loved ones who live with mental ill health.
My role as a carer has increased recently with supporting a friend who is an older person living with mental ill health. I have taken her into my home to support her in her recovery journey.