2nd December 2013, the journey down the mighty Murray River is over. Lots of smiling joyful faces were to be seen on the shores of Lake Mulwala as the rowing crew pulled in. Members of St Luke’s from far and wide, TAFE staff, friends and family.
On the day I spoke about how over the past 10 years Wodonga TAFE has been providing courses specifically for students with mental health difficulties, often in various stages of recovery. We have had students attend short courses while inpatients and often students who are in residential care. Past students have been business people, university graduates, mums and Dads. Mental illness does not discriminate on grounds of socioeconomic status. Our students often go on to employment and further studies as outcomes but like our R2R group often what may seem like a small achievement is that our students can find a voice. Often over a short period students discover the ability to express themselves in front of others. For example our R2R students hosting public events and ‘Blogging with the ABC’, conducting formal media interviews or simply talking with fellow students and sharing ideas. Some of our students have come from the depths of despair and shone a light on others through new-found leadership skills.
In finding a voice one finds confidence and often due to positive feedback from others greater self-esteem. In finding a voice you can express your thoughts and ideas to move forward and discover or uncover new interests. Or you can express your thoughts collectively to effect change. The R2R group now have a long list of community supporters and via media have and will touch thousands. Community events like the R2R project engage members of the community on a level that all understand, rather than formal clinical training sessions aimed at public awareness or destigmatization which can sometimes leave people cold and not really have an impact. People need to see that mental illness is ‘NORMAL’. As our students discovered it’s not 1 in 5 people , it’s closer to 1 in 2. Every one knows someone so why not talk about it? Community events like R2R assist people to talk. I look forward to further qualified consumer involvement in direct mental health service planning and delivery and I’m still enthusiastic about providing equity in education via community partnerships and courses that assist students to be comfortable in taking on vocational pathways.
The next step;- is to have a review and wind up of the R2R project via a ‘red carpet event’. We look forward to Suzi from the ABC presenting the students documentary early next year and the presentation of TAFE certificates. Two years seems to have gone fast but the results have been fabulous.
Thanks and Best wishes to all.
Bryan Winnett. ” The teacher”.