Postgraduate student Jennifer Nicholls believes education, faith and work are elements in her life that enable her to rise above any discrimination.
Jennifer who has a degree in education and social anthropology, and has completed additional mental health papers and courses, has had a mixed response from friends to her experience of mental distress and frequent hospitalisations.
“Friends with no experience of mental illness were not used to talking about these kinds of issues, so I lost contact with many of them,” she says. “I’m grateful for the friends who stuck by me, and the new friends I’ve made who have similar experience of mental distress, because we can be more ‘real’ about things when talking with one another.”
She believes it is important to find people who you can trust and connect with who are, or can become, long term friends – as they will understand her situation and listen to your, story.
Jennifer also appreciates the support from within her own family, as well as from health professionals such as counsellors, doctors, and nurses – and a police woman, who has made a difference.
“And I have discovered it is good for my health to be able to give back to others, instead of being on the receiving end of their support all the time.”
So she arranges potluck meals and lunches for family and friends, as well as singing, playing music and going on walks to show how much she values time with them.
Another source of strength is Jennifer’s volunteer and paid work. It is something she can chat to others about, and shows that she can achieve as much as anyone else.
“It proves people’s assumptions are wrong, especially when I am able to help organisations, like the NZ Police, develop resources to improve services and communication for tangata whaiora.”
Jennifer has faced discrimination – “But I know better than them,” she says. “Ignoring people who judge me and focusing on my study, my faith and people who know me, helps me rise above that negativity.”
For those people who have someone in their lives with experience of mental distress, she suggests you let them know it is ok to talk about their problems – that you will listen to them, empathise with them and support the positive by focusing on their achievements.
Jennifer believes that people with experience of mental distress can be more sensitive, less judgemental and have a lot of character and excellent coping skills.
“We need to be kind to ourselves during stressful times,” she advises. “To value and appreciate what we have been through, not pressure ourselves to return to work too soon and give ourselves credit for taking small steps, at the right time, towards recovery.”