As a SANE Peer Ambassador, I’m so proud to be part of a national network of nearly 100 people who all share a common goal of reducing stigma and discrimination for those living with complex mental health issues.
I joined the Peer Ambassador program because I wanted to use my lived experience of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) to help others living with complex mental health issues, and the people who support them. Through sharing my journey, I want to break down the stigma and talk about the impact that mental ill health can have on the lives of Australians. OCD is not a personality trait or simply another way of saying that you’re extremely tidy or clean, but a serious mental illness that up until recently silenced me in everyday life.
The training to become a Peer Ambassador was really special. It was the first time I truly realised the power of storytelling and connected with other lived experience advocates.
One of the best things was that I felt accepted for me, and that my story was valued. The level of understanding and support SANE has for my specific needs creates such a great space to be an advocate in. I truly feel like I am following a passion. The program has provided me with mentoring not just in my advocacy journey, but in everyday life. I previously took part in a campaign focussed on mental health in young adults called Be Kind to Your Mind. I was able to share my story in a way I initially thought I wouldn’t do, using short social media videos. The training around this campaign taught me useful skills in dealing with others’ opinions, not just online, but in any advocacy engagement. With every opportunity I have been involved in I’ve learnt new life skills and become more confident in expressing my story. Along with this, hearing the experiences of other Peer Ambassadors from across the country has provided me with a greater understanding of other complex mental health issues.
Sharing what happens to us when we experience illness, distress, stigma or trauma can be difficult. But there is such power in hearing someone’s candid, first hand experiences, which the program supports members to do in a safe and impactful way.
Today, because of organisations like SANE, there’s a lot more awareness of mental health issues, but there is still a long way to go when it comes to reducing stigma, increasing mental health literacy and help seeking behaviours.
As a young man in the sporting industry, talking about mental health can be seen as a weakness. But as I continue to develop my advocacy skills as part of the Peer Ambassador program, I’m finding that I’m having more and more positive conversations about what it means to live with a complex mental health issue and I’m challenging stereotypes of masculinity and emotional vulnerability. It’s so important, especially as young people, to challenge outdated views, stand up for what we believe in and be the change we want to see in this world.