Following story as told to Fairfax media.
Living with complex mental illness is hard enough, but the accompanying stigma and isolation make symptoms worse and act like a handbrake on recovery.
That was the case for Aaron Fornarino, who was first admitted to a mental health facility at age 14 and eventually diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). He spent his teenage years and young adulthood in and out of psychiatric wards and foster homes, where he struggled with self-harm, anxiety, depression and impulsiveness.
“It was just a really chaotic time,” says Fornarino, now a 37-year-old public servant in Adelaide.
“Borderline personality disorder wasn’t taken very seriously back then. I was sort of treated like an attention-seeker or a pest.”
“One of the biggest things with BPD is you feel isolated and alone,” he adds. “I honestly felt that I was the only person in the world who had it.”
Fornarino went on to find fulfilling work and an especially supportive therapist who helped him learn to manage his illness. He now serves as a peer ambassador for SANE, where he advocates for better education about mental illness and better access to mental health services.
Though Fornarino says he worked hard to get where he is today, he would have benefited immensely from online and community resources provided by organisations such as SANE.
“We didn’t have the internet back then, and there was no real outlet for my feelings. I didn’t feel like I could go and talk to my mum,” he says. “Now people can jump online, they can discuss these issues.
“I wish I had that when I was younger.”
The SANE Forums are an online discussion space for Australians 18 years and over who are living with mental illness. Users are encouraged to share their experiences, as well as to offer insight and support to others.
There is also a Carers Forum for family members, friends, colleagues or anyone who cares about someone living with mental illness – they can use the service to connect with other carers.
Launched in 2014 and funded primarily by the Australian Government, the forums are moderated 24/7 by mental health professionals and are used by 9,000 Australians every month.
Fornarino says online forums allow people living with mental illness to speak openly with others who know what they are going through. Forums are also easy and convenient for anyone with an internet connection to access.
Users can log on to saneforums.org via their mobile phone, tablet or desktop.
“They also help because they’re completely anonymous,” says Fornarino. “You don’t have to give your name, so you may feel a bit safer discussing issues with others, because there’s no repercussions from doing so.
“They’re also helpful for people looking to obtain information or speak to others going through similar experiences.”
Almost 800,000 Australians like Fornarino live with complex mental illness, such as personality disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and complex post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Remember that anyone can experience mental health issues at any stage of their life,” says Fornarino.
“Mental illness does not discriminate, and I really want others to realise they’re not alone.”
Click here to visit the SANE Forums. For help, contact Lifeline 131 114 or beyondblue 1300 224 636.
This story first appeared in The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, and The Canberra Times on March 31, 2019.