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Group chats help remove the mental health stigma

Zoe KeenanSouth Western Times
Christian Wild, Anne Puglisi and Emma Blackwell discuss how Grow has helped their own personal experiences with mental health.
Camera IconChristian Wild, Anne Puglisi and Emma Blackwell discuss how Grow has helped their own personal experiences with mental health. Credit: Zoe Keenan

As growing numbers of people battle with mental illnesses, a not-for-profit group in the South West believes lived experience and group support could be the key.

Grow mental wellness program is a community-based, not-for-profit who run several weekly peer support groups for people experiencing mental health issues.

The groups operate in Margaret River, Harvey, Boyup Brook, Busselton, and two in Bunbury.

Grow field worker Emma Blackwell, who started some of the South West groups, said people were often able to open up about their experiences in the groups to other people who had experiences with mental health problems, creating a more understanding environment.

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She said people with mental health problems faced many barriers to accessing help including the stigma surrounding mental health and the concern that they would be judged.

“They’re also overwhelmed with emotions and don’t know what to do with it,” she said.

“People do give up quick if any process is too hard, their life is stressful enough as it is.”

During group sessions people are invited to share testimonials about their personal experience and how the group sessions helped them.

When people feel ready to open up about their own personal experience, the group then works collectively to problem solve for them.

“You don’t have to share but when you feel comfortable and can share the issues, problems and challenges, then as a group we help problem solve,” Ms Blackwell said.

“Sometimes people say their friends get sick of hearing about it (their troubles) or that their friends don’t understand because they haven’t experienced it before. Friends and family might tell you to see a counsellor but because everyone in Grow groups is so open, when someone says it sounds like you need to see a counsellor it lands better.”

ECU student Anne Puglisi recently joined the groups as part of her practical studies as a social worker and said it provided an alternative option for people instead of counselling and medication.

She said the groups lead by example because “we all have issues and it’s easier to open up together”.

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