Wed. Oct 27th, 2021

The day Paula Edwards began to turn her life around started with a little challenge – going for a morning walk.

“My life was very chaotic and painful,” she says as she recounts her journey from crippling social anxiety to living her “best life,” which now includes owning a Harley-Davidson.

“But it took me a while before I got to the point where I was tired of what was happening.

“I was just getting deeper and deeper into the hole. Nothing happened to me and I was stuck there.”

Paula, who is now a living experience contributor to Anglicare’s Healthy Minds Team in Rockhampton, shared her story during Mental Health Week to show that there is a way back to purpose and happiness.

One of the biggest issues during her years of anguish and struggles was the stigma of mental health.

It was so big that she decided to keep her horrible situation to herself for many years.

“Because of this, I suffered,” she said.

The turning point

Paula was in a very dark corner, but reached the point where she needed – and wanted – to find help.

“Every single person has mental health as we all have physical health,” she said.

“If anyone has a physical health diagnosis, they are looking for people to see what the best possible results are. So I decided to seek out people who could help me, the best people to support me.”

“If you’re at a GP who does not understand you … find someone else, find someone who works for you.

“This is how we grow and learn about ourselves. What can my best life look like? What goals can I achieve? Are there people out there like me?

“I wanted to find people, and I did. Even facing these challenges, they were still out there working, buying a home, raising children, and contributing to the community.

“It was only when I started having these discussions that I realized that there were many more people like me who needed support.”

Starting with small steps

As Paula began to recover, her world grew larger.

“I do things now that I never thought I could ever do, and it’s pretty amazing,” she says.

“But I started small. I challenged myself daily to go for morning walks. Then I started doing more things.

“I got a part-time job and I built myself up. Nobody says it’s easy, but we have to take the first step.

A woman with a purple top and dark brown hair.
Paula Edwards now supports people suffering from extreme mental illness.(Delivered by: Paula Edwards)

“There may be the best doctors, the best psychologists the best supporters, but it took me to decide to participate in it. It took me to decide to go on that journey.”

As a member of Anglicare’s mental health team, she works with people suffering from extreme mental illness.

She has been in their shoes and knows that there is hope and help available to rebuild their lives.

“I see people who are in pain or struggling and I really feel for them because it’s not ours forever. It’s not all we are. This is just a small part,” she says.

How to make a difference

Paula says that there are ordinary people scattered throughout the community who are well equipped to step up and help people with mental health problems to start the healing process.

“Doctors and specialists are amazing … but they’re the people closest to us [who can help].

“It’s your work colleague, it’s the guy in the tattoo shop, it’s the hairdresser, it’s your neighbor.

“It’s the people who start spotting when something is different, when there has been a change in behavior, a deterioration in health.

“Even extend kindness and start the discussion [can help].

“You can be a beacon in society.

“You’re not a psychologist, but you can say, ‘Hey can we make an appointment? I’m willing to take care of the kids while you go to the doctor. I can take you with’ or even ‘I’m worried about you. I put notice that this happened to you. ‘”

The effect of COVID

Jenny Smith, a lifestyle support manager on Central Queensland’s Anglicare team, runs mental health, suicide prevention and NDIS programs.

Her job has never been busier as the impact of COVID-19 takes its toll.

Two women stand together smiling in front of an anglicare banner.
Jenny Smith (right) says people are experiencing mental illness for the first time because of the pandemic.(Delivered by: Jo Smith)

“There is a huge demand for psychiatric services and suicide prevention services,” Ms Smith said.

“We know there is a housing shortage, we know that people are vulnerable and struggling.

Reach out and connect

Ms. Smith says the most important message during Mental Wealth Week is to connect.

“Everyone has the capacity to reach out,” she said, “connect with their neighbors, connect with their loved ones they may not have connected to, connect with their colleagues at work. Reach out and truly connect.”

Mrs Smith urged anyone struggling with their mental health to contact help.

“We can do it for them, we can go with them, but it’s up to the person to do it themselves,” she said.

“Connect, reach out. No one is alone, there will be someone who takes your hand and shines a light on the path you want to go.

“Once they find their voice, it’s so satisfying to work in this space.”

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