The CEO of Changing Minds and mental health advocate shares her wisdom over a cuppa.
Why have you chosen to work in the area of mental health and addiction services?
It’s become my calling. I spent 20 years of my life struggling with my mental health. I received eight mental “illness” diagnoses, spent months in psychiatric hospitals, experienced ECT and worse, hopelessness. Nothing I tried (including self-medicating) worked until I realised I had to navigate my own recovery. Now, I’m driven to make sure nobody has the experiences I had.
Can you tell us about Changing Minds…
Changing Minds was founded 20 years ago in Auckland after the big psychiatric hospitals closed down. Survivors from these institutions banded together to support and advocate for people using mental health and addiction services, as well as improve these services. Changing Minds is a charity governed, run and staffed completely by people who have survived, and thrived. We now work across Australasia to transform the mental health system. We listen to and amplify the voices of lived experience to counter prejudice and discrimination, and change people’s minds about mental health.
Can mindset help when it comes to tackling depression?
Mindset is very important and can help, but please don’t confuse this with willpower. You cannot will yourself out of depression, you can begin to observe your thoughts, try new things, and hold hope that the way you feel is not chronic or predestined and won’t last forever.
What coping strategies have helped you?
Two of the things I have needed to practice are; accepting those things outside my control and forgiving myself when I think I have failed. I cope by talking it out with my partner or a close friend, as I have found checking my assumptions with others and sharing my negative thoughts out loud shines a light on them, and often exposes them as ridiculous. I also recognised my physical health needed more focus, so nutrition in particular has been an important piece of the puzzle in sustaining my recovery.
How can friends or family best help someone who is struggling with depression or addiction, in terms of first steps?
Remember – you don’t need to be an expert, just listen and accept what they are going through without judgement. Don’t offer unsolicited advice, people need to find solutions in their own time. Support them to see their experiences have value – learning from our experiences is how we build resilience. Validate what they are going through right now and let them know it makes sense given what they have been through, but that the path isn’t inescapable. Each moment is a choice. Hold hope for them when they are feeling hopeless and never cave into thinking this is the way it will always be. The vast majority of people recover, but the timeframe is different for everyone. Focus on self-care. Supporting people is exhausting and compassion fatigue is real so carve some time out for yourself.
You’re also an actor who has appeared in shows from McLeod’s Daughters to Shortland St. Have those skills helped you communicate your work?
Absolutely – my experiences in film and theatre have shaped some unique and creative ways to inspire empathy and understanding. I often use “edu-tainment” as a way of engaging audiences in social change.