As part of Be Kind to Your Mind, we asked young people who've lived with mental illness questions about their experience. Here's what they told us.
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.”
On Thursday 28 March, Julia Young, Curator at The Dax Centre, sat down with four artists from their current exhibition—STIGMA: dismantled, revealed to talk about their experience of stigma, self expression and art making.
Once the audience had indulged in cheese platters and drinks, they gathered around Cornelia Selover’s oil on board artwork, The complex heaven of a broken mind, to hear Simon Crosbie, Lucy Hotchin, Kylie Steinhardt and artist in residence Jessie Brooks-Dowsett participate in a Q&A style panel conversation.
“What are your experiences of stigma, and how do you feel we can dismantle and reveal it?,” Julia asked the artists.
“I think my own self stigma was my biggest obstacle,” Kylie said.
“Emergency room stigma from doctors, nurses and the medical system is the worst. That’s the part of the stigma that gets in your soul,” Lucy added. “The whole idea of doing well whilst experiencing mental illness—you can actually be in a state of flux and still be doing well in life.”
Burnout and compassion fatigue are terms carers regularly hear when caring for someone with a mental illness.
There is no doubt that caring for someone can be a demanding, stressful and exhausting role. It's also common to be told to look after yourself and prevent burnout. But, at times it can be difficult to know when we are feeling normal pressures or when it’s something more.
Twice a month, SANE Australia runs Topic Tuesday events on our forums. These are a chance for people around the country to come together in real time to discuss issues involving complex mental illness. Previous topics have covered everything from the side effects of medication to creating a safety plan, from supporting someone through panic attacks to sex and intimacy with a complex mental illness.
Topic Tuesday discussions are anonymous, safe, moderated by mental health professionals and free for users to take part.
The forum holds a space for a Lived Experience community and another for the Carers community and a monthly event is held in each side. In January we hosted “Supporting your loved one through a panic attack” in the Carers forum but with participation from people in both groups.
It was extremely informative to hear about panic attacks from both those having them and those observing them. Here’s a selection of perfectives from the event.
Many said the first time came as a shock:
STIGMA: dismantled, revealed is a bold new art exhibition opening in Melbourne on February 15.
The Dax Centre exists to engage, inform and encourage conversations about mental health through art. It is home to the Cunningham Dax Collection, more than 16,000 artworks created by people with lived experience of mental illness or psychological trauma.
The collection was founded by Dr Eric Cunningham Dax, an English psychiatrist who moved to Melbourne to become chairman of the Mental Hygiene Authority in 1951. Dr Dax was a firm believer in the power of art therapy to help people with mental illness and psychological trauma. He introduced innovative art therapy programs into Victoria's psychiatric hospitals and salvaged thousands of artworks created within these programs when the hospitals began to be shut down in the 1980s.
In the early 2000s, the collection was expanded to include artworks created by artists and community groups living with mental illness in the present day. In 2018 The Dax Centre merged with SANE Australia.
Topic Tuesday is a regular event on the SANE Forums where we host live discussions of specific mental health issues. Recently Belle from Parentline joined us to give advice for parents with mental health challenges. Here's some of her tips.
The life of a parent can be a busy and demanding one! You could be juggling so many potential stressors all at once, including work, family commitments, finances, and keeping up with your child’s school and social routines.
For those parents managing mental health challenges, you are managing not only your responsibilities as a parent, but your own mental health, and the complex and confronting emotions that can come with this delicate balance. No easy feat.
This being said, there are things you can do for yourself that can make parenting with a mental illness easier.
Be kind to yourself and mindful of self-expectations
Jo Buchanan looks back at how the role of carer has changed over the decades, and the progress we've made.
One of the most heartbreaking experiences when a family member develops mental illness is the change from someone we’ve known into a stranger.
When my sister was diagnosed with schizophrenia in the 1970s she was hospitalised for months at a time, so I decided to take on the care of my beautiful, fun-loving nephew. But when he reached his teens Joel began to change. Initially I thought his rebellious behaviour was the result of a mum who was mentally ill - it never occurred to me that my nephew was battling the same illness as my sister.Back when I was caring for my sister and nephew in the 1970s and 80s, the medical profession seriously believed schizophrenia indicated a ‘split personality’ and was probably caused by ‘bad parenting’.
Not only did carers shoulder the burden of caring for their loved ones - without any support from the government or medical profession - they were also accused of causing it.
So when a chance arose for Joel to join the Wilderness Program, a project designed to help delinquent teenagers, I jumped at the opportunity. The programme involved a healthy outdoor lifestyle in the bush with the emphasis on building self-confidence and self-esteem. I thought it would be the perfect answer.