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Home of the brave: Overcoming mental health stigma with storytelling

A mental health diagnosis forced Tim Daly to slow down, cut back on his commitments, cut out coffee completely, and focus on only the most important and essential aspects of his life. 

An experienced producer who is also highly skilled in coaching, advertising, sales, management and the hospitality industry, Tim had spent 25 years working his way to the top – he had become the successful general manager of the local office of an international events staging company. 

Somewhere in among his hectic working life schedule, however, Tim started suffering acute anxiety and depression and was taken to hospital twice. 

On top of his heavy workload during this time, a series of events took place which included unexpected deaths in his wider family circle, and a diagnosis of Multiple sclerosis (MS) for his partner.   

“Being a bit of a bloke, I thought I need to handle all this, so I didn’t look after myself. I was too busy trying to run a business and looking after everybody and forgetting to grieve about family members. And it all caught up with me. 

“One day my brain basically said, ‘Enough Tim, go to sleep’, and I did and I was taken to hospital.” 

Tim was given brain and heart scans and, when no physical issue could be found, he saw a psychologist. 

“They diagnosed me with severe anxiety so much so that I wasn’t allowed to drive a car. I had to give up coffee because the kick from the coffee can just send me over the edge again.” 

He says the business he was working for decided he was a liability because of his mental health and, after 16 years, he was told he was no longer needed. 

“It was also a blessing in disguise because it made me slow down and go, ‘Okay, you have to rethink what you’re doing here because you’re no good to anybody in this environment in this situation’.” 

Tim says that when his partner received her MS diagnosis and he began managing her medical needs, he knew he had to take his own self-care seriously. 

“I was no good to her if I couldn’t stand up myself. The funny thing is that now that I’m home with her most of the time, we’re even closer than we were before. So it worked out really well for us.” 

With a reduced income, the couple simplified their lives, a move which Tim says “took the stress off”. 

Tim found himself in 2016 wanting to do something to reduce the stigma around mental health. 

“I found an organisation in the US called This is My Brave. So I rang them up and said, ‘I would love to start this program in Australia.’” 

This Is My Brave provides a storytelling space for people with lived experience to collaborate and break down stigma through the performance of shows around the country, at festivals and via podcasts. 

“People can do poetry, they can sing, they can dance, they can do comedy … whatever they want to do to express themselves about their experience of mental health issues. 

“The story they give us is sometimes raw … you have to bring the tissues along. But it’s ultimately uplifting because these people are living productive, fulfilling lives and managing mental health which is a great lesson for everybody else out there.” 

The show creation process begins with auditions, a cast is chosen, and rehearsals take place. 

“Sometimes when they share their stories so suddenly they can spread their wings and go, ‘This is my story, you’re not going to stigmatise me about it, so I feel free, I feel fantastic’.” 

Some people have attributed taking part in This Is My Brave to giving them a new chance at life. 

“They say, ‘This saved my life. I was going down the path of suicide, suicidal ideation, but this brought me back a bit’.” 

Topics covered can include mental health, disability, socioeconomic disadvantage – Tim says it’s important to reach people who feel isolated from society. 

Local mental health services are invited to set up stalls “so we’re a bit of a conduit between the community and the community services”. 

People living with mental health issues often feel like they’re not being heard. 

“You go to the doctor, you go to the psychologist and they are wonderful. But they’ve got time constraints so you never actually get your full story out.” 

During the creation of a show, people have time to explore their story and a camaraderie develops so “people don’t feel like they’re alone anymore in what they’re going through”. 

“If you’ve gone through the recovery and you’re feeling comfortable and safe and ready to share your story, then this is a great place to do it and get across to the rest of your community that living with mental health is not the end of your life – it’s just something you manage and you move on.” 

Tim says stigma is perpetuated through a lack of education and by “sensationalised” media stories. 

“People need to look at people with mental health issues as they appear, not as their diagnosis. You don’t look at someone and say you’re bipolar, you say, you’re a mother or a father or a student or a daughter who deals with bipolar. 

“We look at them first as a person and then look at their diagnosis. Because that’s just part of your life. It’s not your whole.” 

This Is My Great International Mental Health Film Festival is now open for submissions for this year’s festival which be on World Mental Health Day on October 10. Go to thisismybraveaustralia.com 

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