22.09.2013 Community

Gen Y Inspirer

Last month's article 'Get Talking' by Louise Keogh with her forthright advice on overcoming depression has stirred a lot of interest. As a follow up this month, Amanda Stephenson shares her own story of starting up WA support group GenWHY?

Many parts of Louise's article resonated with me. I was enlightened and heartened by Louise's courage and honesty to speak about her difficult experience and hope that more people will be encouraged to do the same.

I too experienced depression and the stigma, loneliness, frustration and stifling isolation that having a "mental illness" can often bring. After being diagnosed with depression and exhausting friends and family trying to make them understand how I was feeling, I went looking for other people just like me. When I couldn't find anyone I started my own support group, GenWHY?

Connect Groups, the peak body for support groups in WA, assisted me to hold the initial support group meetings. I remember looking at the young men and women who came to the first meeting thinking, "Wow is that what I look like, because they look normal?" I was almost guilty with happiness and relief that there were other people out there just like me. Sharing our stories and experiences, warts and all, enabled us all to feel understood, heard, validated and gave us hope that we will get better.

My depression forced me to leave my job, move in my parents and slowly start rebuilding the pieces of my life again. A lack of energy, little interest in anything and suicidal thoughts quickly became part of my daily life. Starting the GenWHY? Support Group was a much needed light in a very dark place.

GenWHY? is the only support group in WA that has the unique combination of psychologist facilitation and peer-led support and is provided for free. Our psychologist uses a client-centred approach and maintains up to date knowledge on the latest tools and research to ensure members receive the best advice and support they need. We have a strong peer support network for members to keep in touch in between meetings. We provide members with information and inspiration to assist them to improve their mental health and well being. We provide well being workshops including meditation, exercise and nutrition, problem solving and goal setting. Our social events allow members to re-engage in the community in a safe environment and strengthen the support network.

Throughout the three years at GenWHY? I'm constantly inspired by people's ability to bounce back from the depths of despair. I've seen members previously unemployed re-enter the workforce, re-ignite a long forgotten passion, reconnect with friends and family, and those with social anxiety, re-engage in the community. I've also seen the benefit of members using their experience to help others, in turn helping themselves. Ultimately, members become more proactive in managing their mental health and well being.

The support group experience has also proved that education is key to reducing stigma and encouraging people to speak out and seek help. Many group members have no other support outside GenWHY? as they haven't told their friends and family they have a mental illness. The fear of stigma, and a perceived lack of understanding and support keeps people silent, isolated and struggling alone.

Education about mental illness and a greater awareness of the services and support available in the community is vital to unlocking this silence. I challenge you to ask yourself if you would know how to act if a friend came to you for help?

As Louise mentioned depression does not need to define you, and acceptance is the key to recovery. It will, however, challenge you to define who you are now, what you want out of life and the steps you need to take to rebuild the new life that awaits you. I don't think I'd quite call depression a gift, but it definitely taught me a lot about myself, what is important to me, what I value and what I really want to do in the precious time we have on this planet.

I now have a new appreciation for life, hopes, dreams and goals, and a dedication to helping people like me by offering the only support group specifically for people with depression and anxiety over 25 years in WA.

My own experience and that of the support group has proved that recovery from a mental illness is possible. I have seen many people recover and I want people to know that you can still be a contributing member of society and have a fulfilling life with a mental illness. There may be days when that seems so far out of reach but if I can do it then anyone can.

GenWHY? is an incorporated organisation and registered charity and relies on donations and private funding to continue to provide this vital service in the WA community. We meet fortnightly on Tuesdays in Perth CBD, 5.30-7pm. For upcoming meetings please call Connect Groups (08) 9228 4488, email gen.why@hotmail.com find us at www.depressionwa.org, or say hello on Face book.

Useful websites:

www.connectgroups.org.au ARAFMI (groups in various states)www.mifa.org.au www.beyondblue.com.au