Inclusion key factor in mental recovery

LISA KNIGHT
Last updated 12:00 08/07/2014

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Social inclusion is a key to mental illness recovery but self-acceptance has to come first, a Manawatu mental illness sufferer and community support worker says.

The Mental Health Foundation's recently released Stories of Success publication reveals the powerful role of social inclusion within family, friends and community in reaching recovery.

Dean Black, who has suffered from mental illness for several years and now works fulltime for the Mash Trust in Palmerston North, agreed social inclusion was definitely key in recovery but taking responsibility for your own journey was also important.

"We have to get past our own barriers and self stigma before even thinking about inclusion with others. You have to be OK with yourself," he said. "But it's really good to be empowered and told you're doing well."

More than 10 years ago the pressures of a navy job pushed Black into mental illness.

He woke up on the side of a road in Taupo in a psychogenic fugue state, which is a rare psychiatric disorder characterised by amnesia for personal identity and memories.

Black went back to the navy after eight months of medical help but, with a damaged self confidence, he left soon after.

Moving to Palmerston North in 2001, Black slipped into a pattern of self-medication with alcohol and suffered a psychotic episode.

A hospital stint after overdosing on medication was a wake-up call.

"I realised there were more people in my life than just me. That was the moment where I realised I didn't want to stay at home and hide out, the first time I realised other people were affected by me."

Black began to make changes to his life and started studying brain activity and behaviour relating to mental illness. He joined Like Minds, Like Mine, which is a programme aimed at reducing stigma around mental illness, and Pathways to Wellbeing, where he helped to organise workshops for sufferers in Palmerston North.

Spending time around people who understood his illness helped Black get his confidence back, he said.

"I was accepted more for who I was. There was sharing of knowledge and mutual acceptance between us."

Mash Trust mental health service residential manager Amanda Wright said community engagement and the development of respectful relationships were powerful in a person's journey of recovery.

"Having a place of belonging and sense of being connected and a part of society is important for all people, including those who have an experience of mental illness. Social inclusion requires acceptance and acceptance requires an open mind and the ability to look past the stigmas that sometimes exist in our communities."

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Black said education on mental illness was needed for young people.

"Particularly at young levels, education is needed because there is still stigma and discrimination, and that's just people not knowing," he said.

Mental Health Foundation director of policy and development Hugh Norriss said social inclusion was "a basic human need, and a right".

"Stories of Success highlights how important being socially included is for people experiencing mental illness, and for all New Zealanders," Norriss said.

- Manawatu Standard

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