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Small steps, big change

Chantelle (left) is taking steps towards recovery and reconnecting with her community with support from her PHaMs worker Terry.

Chantelle is 26 and has been living with depression and anxiety since she was a teenager. A childhood of bullying and isolation caused Chantelle to rarely leave the safety of her home. Now, through the support of her PHaMs mentor, Chantelle is taking steps towards recovery and reconnecting with her community.

As a child, Chantelle moved around a lot. She was bullied by her siblings and peers, and when her parents separated, she became estranged from her mother.

Feeling isolated and suffering from depression and anxiety, Chantelle dropped out of high school and cut herself off from society. "(I) locked myself away in my bedroom for self preservation. I felt socially inept. I stayed away from society and people", she explains.

For ten years Chantelle tried different mental health programs and services but was unable to find one that offered her the support she needed. In January 2010, she was referred to the Red Cross Personal Helpers and Mentors program (PHaMs) and hasn't looked back.

"I had no expectations coming into the program, as I was so disappointed with others. I thought that PHaMs had to be better than the others, it couldn't be worse. I thought at first nothing would help, though after a time I realised this program was different", she says. "This one gives me my own freedom, setting it apart from the others".

"My first contact with the worker was casual, not in some stuffy office environment. We met on the front steps of my house. It was a good experience, chilling out on the steps, just talking about the program, no pressure and casual, in my own home environment", Chantelle recalls of meeting her mentor, Terry, for the first time.

Over the past 20 months, Terry has seen Chantelle regain self confidence allowing her to slowly reconnect with her community and learn to cope with mental illness. "When I started working with Chantelle, she chose to stay indoors", Terry recalls, "I slowly encouraged Chantelle to visit a local café, where we sat out doors at her request. We slowly ventured further each visit, initially in the car, where she said she felt safe".

Chantelle now attends a weekly church group and looks forward to contributing to group discussions.

Chantelle appreciates the relaxed nature of the program. "My experience with the program is a good one; forcing people to do things with mental illness is never good", she says. "People need to feel like they aren't made to do things if they are unwell."

The PHaMs program focuses on strengths - what people with a mental illness can do, rather than what they can't do. It aims to assist people with a mental illness to lead a fulfilled life, working with people to increase their self confidence, to connect with their community and meet individual goals.

Red Cross emphasises social connection as a key element in reducing vulnerability and improving recovery, and this is something that Chantelle now recognises as being an important step in her recovery. "One thing I needed was to get out in the community, which I was not aware of at the time" she says. "There was no pressure to do this, I was gently encouraged. I did it in my own time, by my own choice."

PHaMs has supported Chantelle in taking control of her life and in making positive choices towards the road to recovering.

"With help I came to realise everything is my choice", she says. "I realised I had to make the choices to help me recover. It helped me understand when it was me not wanting to do things or when it was the mental illness not allowing me, giving me more control over things."

"You can choose to survive or choose to live", she says. "Having just one person understand makes a world of difference."

Photo: Australian Red Cross / Matt Walker

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