Red Cross has teamed up with around 250 people with lived experience of mental health concerns to design My Team, a new free app which makes it easy to ask for help and offer support.
On Monday 29 April the app was launched with two of the people who helped design it. Marcus De Giglio and Cheryl Bruce shared their very personal stories. Read what they had to say about living with mental health concerns and how the My Team app and how the My Team app can help.
Firstly I would like to extend my gratitude to Red Cross for having me here today, and for all of your support over the past two years. It has been a privilege and an honour to be a part of this journey, and I hope we can work together in the future. I would like to thank Judy for her kind words.
Thanks to the consumers and Red Cross staff from Hervey Bay, Kalgoorlie, and of course Port Pirie.
Thank you to each and everyone of you involved in the interviews, the concept creation, the prototyping, everything related to My Team. It has taken a tremendous amount of strength and courage, and I am so very proud of, and grateful to you all.
The following speech may be triggering for those with mental health concerns. I speak frankly, and without shame, about mental illness. It’s normal, as much as I despise that word - it’s normal to find what I have to say confronting.
But the more we talk about it, the less confronting, mystifying and alienating mental illness becomes.
Today, there is a part of me that doesn’t want to be here.
Yesterday, there was a part of me that didn’t want to drive to the airport.
A week ago, there was a part of me that didn’t want to get out of bed.
A month ago, there was a part of me that didn’t want to live.
And yet here I am.
I’m here because I know that there’s nowhere I’d rather be than right here, celebrating the launch of My Team.
I know that, but I can’t feel it. Honestly I feel awful. I wrote that line last night, but it seemed like a shoe-in. Whether or not it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy is something I will no doubt overthink on the flight home.
With anxiety and depression, you can know better, but it doesn’t matter.
You can know who you are and what you stand for, but it doesn’t matter.
You can know who and what you love, but it doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter, because you will likely, for a time, forget.
You will forget, because with anxiety and depression, you simply don’t feel safe - and safety takes precedence over everything else.
I believe the issue of safety lies at the heart of mental illness:
On Abraham Maslow’s original “Hierarchy of needs”, Safety, namely the “freedom from fear” is secondary only to physical needs like food and shelter.
If you don’t feel safe, you simply can’t tend to your interpersonal relationships, your self esteem or acceptance, or your personal growth.
The thing is, the mind doesn’t know the difference between real fear - like a brown snake on the path ahead - and imagined fear, otherwise known as anxiety.
Author Andrew Solomon articulates this beautifully:
“If you trip or slip, there is a moment, before your hand shoots out to break your fall, when you feel the earth rushing up at you and you cannot help yourself — a passing, fraction-of-a-second horror. I felt that way hour after hour.”
As it seems to do each year, a serious bout of anxiety and depression crept up on me as early as last November.
While I certainly don’t feel it at the time, I am grateful for every bout of depression.
During this period I came to some enlightening but terrifying realisations:
My anxiety is not my fault. So I stopped beating myself up.
My anxiety is no one else’s fault. So I stopped blaming others.
This need for safety had been ruling over my entire life. So I mourned for a youth lost.
I realised that there is nothing more I can do, and in the fear, I began to lose hope.
Hopelessness set in, and slowly but surely, I prioritised safety, to the detriment of important aspects of my life: my friends, my family, my health, my appearance, my work, everything.
It’s times like that you need something like My Team.
When anxiety and depression sets in, you know better, but it doesn’t matter.
Everything is too hard. Everyone is an enemy.
Your emotions are out of whack - you feel relief, however fleeting, when you self-sabotage, and cry at the thought of exercise.
You forget who you are, what you stand for.
You forget that people love you and care about you.
You forget to love yourself.
Last month, I was taken to my local hospital’s AandE in crisis.
The pain was agonising, my thoughts were terrifying, and I needed help.
What helped me that night wasn’t the one valium I was given. It wasn’t the well-meaning pep-talk from the doctor on call. It certainly wasn’t the four-hour wait.
It was the company beside me: my social support worker and my father, who I irrationally felt too ashamed to call myself.
That is the essence of My Team: having that support around you to help you through the ups and downs of mental health. For me that means the tough periods in between doctors and specialists, during rocky medication changes, or something as simple yet agonising as getting out of bed becomes.
Even if you know better, it doesn’t matter. Mental illness will help you forget, but My Team helps you remember, which makes it far less scary.
My Team was designed in conjunction with many people with lived experience of mental illness, and as such prioritises safety, ease of use, streamlined ways to ask for help, all while the consumer retains control of their mental health journey.
For the captains of their teams, those with mental health concerns, they will have at their fingertips:
● the members of their team - their trusted support circle - and how they can help.
● What goals are important to them and how to go about them.
● A safe way to record and share their emotional state - colour-coded emojis.
● And a safe way to facilitate social interaction, asking for help, and celebration of achievements.
My Team is equally important for the team members - the captain’s support circle. They will have clearly defined roles in helping the captains in their day-to-day and goal-oriented activities - something that loved ones understandably struggle with - especially when we are too upset to ask for help. They will also be alerted when captains register multiple emojis associated with low mood in a row.
My Team helps both consumers and their support teams to know what healthy, helpful things to do, via a non-threatening app, with a clean interface.
The ability for captains to still be in control of their mental health recovery, yet also have a trusted team to help steer the ship in stormy seas, is invaluable.
My Team helps you maintain relationships, self esteem and acceptance, and personal growth, those fundamental human needs vital to a fuller life, at those times when our illness threatens to lead us astray.
I believe the issue of safety lies at the heart of mental illness.
I believe that it also lies at the heart of the stigma of mental illness.
It is the sign of a healthy mind to employ certain psychological defence mechanisms: to blame and criticise others for their misfortune, to compare itself favourably to others, to distance itself, to tell itself “anxiety or depression or whatever could never happen to me.”
We all think like that sometimes. I’m guilty of it, especially if I’m having a bad trot. But we need to look past that, to the fear and vulnerability that comes with the realisation that mental illness does not discriminate.
3.75 million Australians will experience a bout of mental illness this year. I'm sure the real number is much, much more. Chances are, someone you love is struggling. But with My Team, they won’t have to suffer through it, directionless, afraid and alone.
We may know better, but that doesn’t matter. We are doing our best, we may act in confusing or hurtful or scary ways to feel safe, and we do not need to be fixed or cured, just loved and supported.
Wherever you are on your mental health journey, if you want to know how to help others, or even if you just want to create and maintain a healthy lifestyle, My Team can help you, because with a team behind you, you can live a fuller, healthier, happier life.
Life is better than you think, and My Team serves as a timely, vital reminder.
There are times in the School of Life where a moment of adversity seems overwhelming. Where you can’t see the wood for the trees.
This was so for a time in my life – which I call Chapter 9.
Adversity – My experience
It was for me 9 years of adversity covering the justice system, paraplegia, cancer, death, dementia and other family issues which all of us face at some time or other. It was through this time that I realised it is through adversity that we find resilience and through resilience we find hope. By no means does one have to experience 9yrs of intense adversities but in fact for some of us one adversity can be an insurmountable challenge and one which we may feel we cannot face or endure alone.
I had a handful of supportive friends, family and work colleagues who all offered support at various times in that 9year journey for which I am grateful. I had peaceful moments by myself with nature to reflect on what I and my loved ones were facing which recharged my batteries enabling me to keep going.
The justice experience was challenging on all levels. Mostly in the sense that my 19year old son’s consequences were taking me on a path I did not choose for myself, but as a parent I had to travel to provide support. I maintain the belief that he deserved a second chance at adult hood. There was negative judgement in parts of the local community. Social consequences of our choices can be overwhelming and the judgement by society places an extra burden on someone who is already facing what is for them an overwhelming situation at the time.
Paraplegia was and remains devastating as you not only deal with the loss of your loved ones future as you and he saw it before the injury, but feeling the pain of his loss was and is heart wrenching. Equally heart wrenching has been the journey of his mental wellbeing as he re-adapts his life 7 years on.
Dementia has exposed to me the loneliness of this isolating disease and the slow path to the end of a loved one’s life. Having to overcome the resistance to adapt and adopt new ways of communication and understanding was initially a challenge. The enrolment to an aged care home was confronting. You face the reality of where your loved ones life is at and the realisation that your role as it had been, has come to an end and a different path was now needed.
Although the support journey for Chapter 9 continues, I have learned that I am more resilient than I realised. I found a strength that I never knew I had. 10years on I see there is hope as the adversity of these scenarios continue to evolve. In particular watching my son mature into his adult life. The positive benefit of his maturing is his awareness of the opportunities that await him –a future.
My son and I have a very close relationship and we both have confided that if it wasn’t for our supporting each other at this high level we both at times felt like giving up on life. From my perspective I was definitely tired of the struggle that constant challenges bought.
In the past I had approached the topic of suicide with my son throughout his experience with the justice system and again within paraplegia. We were able to work through the “moments” with honest and open communication. There was a “moment” late last year where his burden to continue was almost too much to bear. I could tell in his voice that the threat had escalated to a very real “moment”. Hearing - “I can’t do this anymore” and the intention of how he was going to end his life was verbalised.
Once again through open and honest communication the “moment” passed. I am blessed to have my son in my life today and mindful for others not so lucky.
How would the My Team App have helped me?
My support network would be a visual in real time. In that “moment” of need and that is a real benefit. Emotions, I believe, are an expression of what is happening within and not always easy to verbalise. I have learned over my life to identify my feelings and verbalise - I feel “uneasy” or I feel “vulnerable” today. For those who find it difficult to verbalise that feeling, an emoji is an excellent visual to assess the right mood. It gives a visual option to eliminate how one is NOT feeling, narrowing to more closely identifying the feeling.
The visual of seeing your My Team team is a gentle, but very important reminder that you are not alone, your loved ones do care and an opportunity to reflect on the support you are receiving, this in turn giving you strength and courage to persevere. Once the intensity of the adversity has passed the App provides the story of the journey. Hopefully upon reflection what has been learned, a life skill gained. This I believe will be reassuring that one is capable of overcoming future hurdles in life and to see that each adversity/hurdle is an opportunity to discover more about yourself and your abilities.
It is my hope that the My Team App is seen as a maintenance option for the mental wellbeing of a person, as is massage, physio, chiropractors or a walk in nature can be for the physical.
I can see how My Team could be incorporated into the Justice System as an App that would benefit young ones as part of their coping mechanism particularly for the first time offenders whilst waiting court time or their Home Detention adjustment.
Paraplegia – we already have rehab for the physical body. I don’t see why My Team App could not be a part of the mental rehab for the patient as well as their carers.
Dementia – a rapidly rising concern in our community – My Team App could provide the carer with a wonderful tool to access on those days when life is tough and one has reached the end of their patience.
Why Red Cross?
Red Cross is about building a better society based on people helping people as mentioned on their website.
I believe that through people caring for people we will break down unspoken barriers.
Thank you for listening.