Making a difference

Katrina Doolen
Living with a mental illness in a small town has many challenges. But there are also opportunities to help make a difference. Five Edenhope residents support each other in a small group. They meet every week. They talk about the challenges of living with a mental illness. They have also been performing skits for local school students. The skits make students aware of different life issues. They show different ways of coping. They also show where to get help. The skits have made a difference for both the students and the group members.
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Katrina Doolen on 30/05/2011
lake and a tree in a misty paddock
lake and a tree in a misty paddock

Life with mental illness can be difficult

Living with a mental illness in a small town has many challenges. But there can also be opportunities to help make a difference.

Five Edenhope residents support each other through their mental health challenges and opportunities. Edenhope is in Western Victoria. It has a population of less than 1000 people. A few years ago Wimmera Uniting Care ran an Inner Strength program in Edenhope. The program aims to increase people's confidence and encourage them to support each other. The program also tries to increase people's knowledge of anxiety and depression.

The Healthy Challenges Group for people with a mental illness was formed in Edenhope following the Inner Strength program. Its five members now meet each week. They also chat in between meetings and look out for each other.

Can be difficult

Group members say life with mental illness can be difficult. The nearest mental health service is over an hour's drive away. They say living in a regional town makes it easier to become lost in the mental health system. They can also feel isolated. Group members say there is still some stigma about mental illness in the community. They can feel like people judge them without knowing them first.

In 2009 the group was asked to perform skits for local schools. The aim was to make students more aware of different life issues. The skits show different ways of coping and where to find help. The group had help from someone who had done similar skits in Ballarat.

Disastrous ending

The group first chooses an issue to explore in the skit. But they do not write a script. Performances are improvised. But the skits always have a disastrous ending.

After the skit is performed, it is the students' turn. Students take turns playing a character. They try to achieve a better outcome. There is always question time afterwards. The students are also told who they can talk to for more help, says group member Billy. (It is) so they can have the tools we didn't have growing up, says Billy.

The first skit performed by the group was about bullying. Their debut performance was daunting as they had an extra large audience. All of the schools in the region attended.

Last year there were a couple of deaths in Edenhope. So the group did a skit on death, depression and anxiety.

Responded well

Students have responded well to the skits. Some students have also asked for help.

Being involved with the skits has also benefited the group members. They have made friends and become more confident. Since doing the skits, more people recognise me and say hello, says Rede. People now see group members in a more positive way. Dave comments that I'm feeling more comfortable with both myself and doing the skits.

The group is keen to keep performing. They want to keep making a difference for themselves and their community. They want to help make the country an even better place to live.

Readers comments (2)

I found this story very inspiring. The group has taken the seed that was the Inner Strength program, nurtured it & each other and now the branches are reaching out to children. While educating them and reducing stigma around mental illness the group is harvesting the benefits of their interaction with them.

It's good to hear how something creative like that can both help the people with mental illness who are doing it and also increase understanding and acceptance in the community.

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