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How my experience of mental health issues led to giving back and a new job

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A SANE Peer Support Worker shares how supporting others in an online mental health community led to developing valuable skills and finding their passion in a new job. 

I never had much interest dealing with mental health issues. I couldn’t understand them and made no effort to even try. My CALD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse) background meant mental health was a taboo – you simply did not speak of it. Then, in later years, as I moved up in the professional world, the work culture made it clear that mental health was not to get in the way of work – there was no such thing ‘stress leave’.

I wasn’t interested in mental health, but mental health was interested in me. For 15 years after finishing school, I battled with the voices of various mental health conditions. They took away my early adulthood, my health, my energy and my zest for life. I didn’t see I had a future.

At my worst, I was taken up by one of Melbourne’s leading clinics to undergo targeted treatment for my mental health. This involved an intense two years of twice-weekly therapy and case management.

By the end of this, I was well on the way to recovery. Upon reflection, I had a subtle but changed mindset. There was a change. A shift I never thought possible.

Discovering the SANE Forums and peer support

It was at my mental health clinic that I first read of SANE. During one two-hour train trip home from therapy, I signed up to the SANE Forums.

Initially, I was an onlooker. I engaged in the Forums by reading the experiences of others. However, when I read about those on a similar mental health journey as I had been, I couldn’t hold back – I had a sincere urge to give back.

This was when I began joining Forum conversations. I responded to very specific posts related to the same conditions I had. The responses were accepted with open arms, and soon became a senior contributor.

"Do you want to give back?"

This was the subject line of an email dropped into my inbox. It was a call for volunteers on the SANE Forums – individuals with lived experience of mental health issues who could support others, be a role model, create a safe space for members, and help build the culture of the Forums.

I jumped at this opportunity. Even though I was still in the ‘recovery phase’, I knew this was exactly what I wanted – a chance to give back to the community!

Becoming a volunteer on the Forums

Let’s just say that volunteering on the Forums as a Community Guide was NOT what I was expecting. I went in with the mindset that I was to provide support, share my story, engage with the community, and welcome new members. And yes, I did do all of these things, but what I didn’t expect were the returns for me, which were a hundredfold.  

Pretty much as soon as I reached out to support members on the Forums, I saw a difference in my own recovery. My mental health became the most stable it had been in over a decade. I no longer felt the need to be supported by an external therapist or support person. I was empowered to help myself.

I had hope and I had a future ahead of me. Being a Community Guide helped connect me with others, so I felt a strong sense of belonging. For the first time in a long time, I no longer felt isolated and disconnected from society. I felt members on the Forums could relate to my experiences and truly understand.

To help us in our Community Guide role, we completed an in-depth training for peer workers. I realised, “This is what I want”.

Paid employment as a Peer Support Worker

After about 18 months as a Community Guide, I noticed SANE had advertised Peer Support Work positions. This opportunity was also mentioned to all Forum Community Guides. As I read the position descriptions, I thought, “No, I’m not qualified or good enough for a paid role”. Despite this, I emailed and asked a few questions about the position. They encouraged me to apply – so I did.

The first role I applied for didn’t fit my current circumstances. But thankfully, they kept my application on file and contacted me when a suitable position became available.

I was inducted seamlessly into the role. The support was incredible. It’s been a relief to finally be a part of a workplace that places employees at its heart.

I’ve finally found my niche as a Peer Support Worker, and I’ve been supported to grow in a field I am now very passionate about. I’ve been encouraged to launch out into the deep and break down the stigma that was holding me back. Because of my peer support work, my family has come to value my mental health experiences. Above all, I’m supporting others through my journey.  

So that’s my story, from having no interest or understanding of mental health, to being a paid mental health Peer Support Worker.

It wasn’t the journey I ever expected, but I couldn’t be more satisfied!

The SANE Forums are a safe, anonymous online community, where you can chat, get support and help others by sharing your story. It is moderated by counsellors and peer support workers, and available 24/7.

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