Joyce Leevard lives in Auckland and has worked part-time for The Werry Centre as a National Youth Consumer Advisor and is also on the Like Minds, Like Mine Youth Advisory Group.

She was first diagnosed with depression in 2005 when she was still at high school.

After her diagnosis, Joyce experienced discrimination for the first time.

“There were two school guidance counsellors who were quite judgemental of me because they knew of my experience.

“My ex-best friend had spread rumours about me including one that said I was crazy. Although I wasn’t attending school at the time, my sister wasn’t happy and the situation was getting out of control, so the school guidance counsellors said we must all come together for mediation.”

Joyce said that she wasn’t comfortable being in the meeting and decided to walk out and wait for her sister at the school gates.

“One of the school guidance counsellors, who believed the rumours, phoned the police to bring me back into the meeting and also phoned my case worker and my mother to say that I was ‘sick and crazy’,” she says.

Another school guidance counsellor had already been unsupportive and rude to Joyce when she was attending school.

“To me the last person to discriminate against a student would be the school guidance counsellors, but in my case they were the first and because of that I felt unwanted at school and left.”

Yet, Joyce says there was a third school guidance counsellor who understood when she was feeling down and couldn’t attend class, and would let her do her work in one of the school offices.

Disclosure is a personal decision

Joyce believes that disclosure is up to the individual and people should respect their decision.

“In my opinion, it is a plus to disclose in job interviews, because if you get the job and become sick then they will know why. The downside is they might also judge you and not give you the job - believing the stigma of ‘we don’t want a crazy person working for us’.”

In Joyce’s case, her employer knows, her family knows and her close friends know, but "if someone wants to judge someone after learning that they have a experience of mental illness, then that’s their loss”.

“My friends remind me that I am a great person with respect for others, because - they say - my experiences have made me the person I am today.”

She says that discrimination exists because of the stigma associated with the word ‘mental illness’ and people’s lack of understanding about it.

“Campaigns such as Like Minds, Like Mine help to reduce the stigma by educating New Zealanders and increasing their understanding, compassion and acceptance around mental illness.

“Everyone experiences a low mood at least once in their lifetime, whether it is for a few minutes or a full on experience of depression – so, with the right approach, discrimination should decrease.”

Recovery required a new environment

Recovery for Joyce meant moving away from the environment that was contributing to her depression.

“I moved in with another supportive family member who helped me on my journey,” she says.

“I started looking after myself by getting eight hours sleep and staying away from fatty and fried foods. I’d get out there and exercise and have fun with family and friends doing activities like laser tag and going to the driving range and the beach.”

Joyce says that having a job with supportive work colleagues has also helped.

Her advice to others who may know someone experiencing mental illness is simply to listen.

“It may not seem a lot, but it can mean a lot.

“Also, never give up on them, and in tough situations please help them to get help - they may actually thank-you later on in life. Encourage them to get a good nights rest, eat healthy food, to exercise and get out of the house, as all these little things can make a big difference.”

Joyce says that it is important not to forget to look after yourself too.

"Make sure you have someone you can talk to as well, so you don’t end up having a break down yourself.”

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