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My Lived Experience Story – Jenny Smith

My Lived Experience Story – Jenny Smith

This story is written by Jenny Smith to inspire others. Jenny is Mental Health Lived Experience Educator/Speaker, Writer/Author and Adviser/Advocate.

I have faced a lot of challenges & adversities over the years. Dad and my sister were both extremely unwell with mental illness (schizophrenia, anxiety & depression) their behaviours were very unstable at times, and family instability led to my parents’ separation for 3 months. I also went through my own experience of mental illness (anxiety & depression) I have faced a lot of stigma & discrimination over the years.

Mum almost lost her life through a medical error which resulted in a longer stay in the hospital. Dad passed away from cancer on my birthday in 2005; he spent the last few months in a nursing home. When first diagnosed, he was in the hospital for 18 weeks due to medical errors and complications – his cancer battle lasted just over 18 months. I spent a lot of time at home to help care for him while Mum worked full-time I was also fulfilling government job seeker requirements like Work for the Dole and other activities during this period. A few years after, I was a carer for my sister while Mum was away for 8 weeks in New Zealand when my grandmother became very unwell, my sister become mentally unwell again during this time. I didn’t know how to help her and wasn’t getting much support from anyone.

I endured long periods of unemployment but completed courses, and participated in volunteer work and casual work to improve my chances however, even though I was constantly looking for work, the rejection letters kept coming. No one would give me a chance. I went to university for a year I started a teaching degree, but that dream was crushed. I personally struggled with my studies to the point I only passed 3 out of 5 subjects in semester 1 and only one subject in semester 2. I failed my teaching placement even though I tried hard, and then regrettably made the difficult decision to leave at the end of that year. School was also a very challenging time I was bullied from when I started Kindy all the way through to Year 12 both physically & verbally, I struggled with schoolwork and ultimately failed my HSC.

My life has improved incredibly over the last few years, 2022 is my 5th year as a Raise Mentor In 2020 I won Westfield Local Hero Awards.

I played a major part in the Central Eastern Sydney Primary Health Network Regional Plan. My lived experience story I wrote was published within the plan, part of it was used in a media release, and I was asked to speak at the official launch in which about 60 people were in attendance. Even though I was really anxious, I did it, the feedback from everyone was positive, and it built up my confidence. I have been a member of their Mental Health Advisory Committee since 2017, and I was appointed to their Community Council in 2019.

I have written stories about my experience with mental illness and recovery available on Roses in the Ocean and Women with Disabilities Australia websites. My own story was promoted on their social media pages on International Women’s Day. My Lived Experience Story appears on other websites, including WayAhead and the NSW Mental Health Commission.

I was part of a book project called Our Own Words 50 people with lived experience, including myself authored the book and was published in late 2019.

I was on the Board of Directors for One Door Mental Health until 2021, and I have been a member of the Consumer Consultative Committee since 2016. I`m also a mental health peer educator for One Door Mental Health; in this role, I share my story of lived experiences with other people. I have spoken to university students, medical professionals, state government employees and One Door staff and volunteers. My main objective is to educate the public and reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Based on what I have achieved, I was chosen as a case study/success story for the Annual Report and newsletter that was published in 2016.

I worked as a volunteer on the telephone mental health support and information service at One Door for over 2 years, working one shift every week where I made outreach calls to people who have limited social contact and are isolated because of mental health issues and needed extra support.

In 2017 I was a volunteer in the Compeer program run by St Vincent de Paul. They matched me up with a person who has become socially isolated due to mental illness. I spent 4 hours a month catching up with the same person over a 12-month period.

I have been involved with projects/consultations with a number of organisations, including Being, Western Sydney Recovery College, St John Of God Hospital, NSW Mental Health Commission, Mental Health Coordinating Council, Mental Illness Fellowship of Australia and National Mental Health Commission. I sit on other committees, including Sydney Local Health District Lived Experience Advisory Panel, Suicide Prevention Australia Lived Experience Panel and the Recovery & Wellbeing College Student Voice. I am a consumer facilitator for a mental health awareness course in South East Sydney LHD.

Everyone in the wider community benefits from my work in the sector, but the young people I mentor within Raise Foundation programs benefit the most from my knowledge and life experience.

I do what I do because I love it. It gives me a sense of purpose and brings me so much satisfaction especially seeing young people flourish as a Raise Mentor. My story shows you can recover from mental illness and lead a fulfilling life.

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