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Changing the conversation on mental health

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Marketing and Advertising student Jade Weary is a community and youth presenter for the Black Dog Institute. After her own experience with depression and being diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 20, Jade joined the institute to help reduce the stigma that surrounds mental health, and to encourage people to seek help if they suffer from a mental illness.

Can you tell me about your background?

I grew up in Mandurah where my childhood consisted mainly of sports: athletics, cross country, basketball, football, BMX racing and soccer. In school I was shy and never truly belonged, changing friendship groups like the weather. It was as though I was invisible, so most of my adolescence was spent feeling lost.

After school I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I went to university as it was ingrained during school as the path to ‘success’. I started working in the communications industry at 19 whilst studying, and I tried different roles at a few agencies until I discovered a passion for content writing.

Why did you choose to study a Marketing and Advertising degree?

When it comes to big (and expensive) decisions, I tend to be impulsive. I chose my degree based on three words – ‘I like ads’ – as I figured it was an unusual interest. While I progressed through my studies, I discovered how powerful communication can be to make meaningful change in the world, which encouraged me to stick with it.

Can you tell me about your struggles with mental health?

Growing up I was an ‘ordinary’ teenager with no health concerns. My struggles began in 2013 when I failed to meet my expectations to succeed, and I crumbled when I fell short. At the age of 20, I suffered a mental breakdown, which lead me to being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder 1: a mood disorder with extreme mood swings, from depression to mania.

The hardest part was adjusting to my new life, finding ways to manage this illness and slowly accepting it as part of my personality. It’s been just over two years since I was diagnosed and I haven’t let it stop me from living. I still have hard days where I’m trapped in my blanket fort, but I’ve also experienced many opportunities that I wouldn’t have dreamed possible.

How did your struggle with mental health impact your studies?

My depression started to consume me, and it felt like everything I’d worked so hard for had disappeared. Instead of completing my exams, I ended up in an unfamiliar examination room, inside a psychiatric ward, where I lived for 80 days.

That impromptu gap year lead to a new marketing job and public speaking role. I think getting back to normality served a huge part in me getting well. Eighteen months later, I returned to study part time. Initially I found it hard to settle back in but I was fortunate to have such a strong support network established with the School of Marketing who coached me to the completion of my degree. All of my tutors, lecturers, student advisors and Curtin’s Support Services were able to recognise that I needed help and assisted me in getting support. They made my transition back to study easier when I was ready.

How did you become involved with the Black Dog institute and what kind of work do you do there?

Before I started presenting I barely told anyone my history. But then I was given the opportunity to be a part of RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Award) and it changed my life. At RYLA I told my story to a room full of strangers and I received acceptance and support, so when I saw an online advert for ‘lived experience presenters’ with the Black Dog Institute, I signed up.

As a volunteer community and youth presenter I educate various audiences across Western Australia about mood disorders to help break down the stigma associated with mental illness, and to encourage people to adopt help-seeking behavior.

Recently I’ve been part of a rural mental health initiative delivering presentations that stretch between Esperance and Geraldton. I’ve also had the opportunity to hold my first round of mental health education seminars at a conference in the eastern Wheatbelt to open up the conversation about mental health.

How has your experience with mental health changed you?

It has increased my self-awareness. I am more in tune with my body and mind than I have ever been, which enables me to manage my illness and reduce triggers. It’s taught me the power of perspective, and how I can transform a negative experience into an invaluable lesson. It’s also taught me that people and place play a vital role in the person you become: if a situation is impacting me negatively, I walk away. It’s also shown me how gratitude can shift your thinking and enhance happiness.

Why do you think the subject of mental health has become more significant and talked about today than in previous generations?

I think it’s perhaps due to research and education that the subject of mental illness has become more common, whereas fifty years ago it was rare and wasn’t accepted nor discussed. Nowadays, at least 20 per cent of the population experiences a mental illness in any year, so we each likely know someone living with a mental illness, whether that’s a friend, sibling, parent, coworker, or ourselves. When we personally know someone who is affected by something, we gravitate towards understanding and accepting it.

What advice or words would you give to someone who feels they aren’t in control of their mental health?

Talk to someone, whether it’s a friend, partner or a family member. It can be confronting to take the first step, so talking to a stranger can also help. You can see a doctor, visit Support Services (if you’re at Curtin), call Beyondblue or Lifeline and chat anonymously over the phone or engage in online forums with others that have similar experiences. Nothing will get better unless you take action, and no matter how bad life seems, there is always a way forward. At the time, disbelief creeps in, but regardless of what you endure in life it’s not what happens to you, rather how you respond, that defines you.

Who is somebody that has inspired and motivated you?

Someone who has made a huge impact on my life, who stood by me during my crisis, and was there to guide me during my recovery, was my mentor, Danielle Norrish. I have so much respect for her – she is such a genuine and caring person who helped me to give my situation new meaning, and I’m so grateful for her influence.

What is your greatest achievement?

Being a volunteer community and youth presenter with the Black Dog Institute, as growing up I was petrified of public speaking to the point where I would bawl my eyes out in front of everyone, every time! So the fact that I’ve gone from hating and avoiding it to being addicted just blows my mind.

What is a dream of yours and how do you plan to get there?

To create social change through decreasing the toxic mental health stigma that prevents people from seeking help, as a world where mental illness is treated like a physical injury would help so many.

I want to use my voice as an asset to spread positive vibes about mental health and change perspectives through real conversations, whether that’s educating audiences, talking to strangers on the streets, using social media and blogging, to perhaps writing books some day. This will enable people to learn and discuss mental health openly in a safe space without the fear of being judged or embarrassed.

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