Empathy aids in recovery for central Victorian woman

SUPPORT: Mind Recovery College Bendigo's first learning and development coordinator SallyRose Carbines, student Deb Treacy and teacher Maree Roche. Picture: EMMA D'AGOSTINO

SUPPORT: Mind Recovery College Bendigo's first learning and development coordinator SallyRose Carbines, student Deb Treacy and teacher Maree Roche. Picture: EMMA D'AGOSTINO

RELATED: Mind over mental illness

All Mind Recovery College Bendigo student Deborah Treacy had to say was that she was feeling nervous about sharing her story, and she was surrounded by supporters. 

Mentors Maree Roche and SallyRose Carbines took it in turns to sit with us during the interview, ensuring Mrs Treacy did not have to face the challenge alone. 

They comforted her when her eyes filled with tears, and helped with information about the more technical aspects of their courses. 

People offered cups of tea and water to make the experience as comfortable as possible.

Before even a word was uttered, it was evident the college was a place where Mrs Treacy felt safe, accepted, and supported. 

“What brought me here was being so lonely and isolated where I live,” she said. 

Mrs Treacy drives more than 80 kilometres from her home in Pyramid Hill to the Morley Johnson Building in Bendigo each week to attend class. 

The college was suggested to her by a counsellor in early February, making Mrs Treacy one of the first students in central Victoria to attend.

“I’ve probably done all the courses they have to offer now,” she said. 

“Each one I’ve done has grabbed your attention and made you think about your recovery and what tools you can take home.”

She’s a strong advocate for the expansion of the college’s course range, and appreciates that the student body has such a say in what they want to learn. 

Attendance at Mind Recovery College is voluntary. It is self-referred, and people can come to as many or as few courses as they like. 

“The group is different every week, but everyone seem to gel – it doesn’t matter what the group is or who the group is,” Mrs Treacy said. 

“You know people aren’t going to be the class clown because they want to be here.”

She said the collaborative aspect of the group made the courses more informative and more enjoyable.

The tasks are not hard – Mrs Treacy said students could do them on their own. But sharing ideas has broadened her perspective.

“You just have to come with an open mind, take your learning experiences away and use the tools given to you here,” she said. 

Her favourite classes so far have been about colour theory and spirituality. 

Both invite the students to explore what makes them happy and incorporate more of it into their lives.

Mrs Treacy smiled throughout our discussion about these courses, her peers and her mentors. 

That smile disappeared momentarily when she talked about a course about advanced statements, which has been the most challenging for her so far. 

“Part of the mental health act introduced in 2014 is an advanced statement you write when you’re well, in conjunction with your carer or nominated person, to make recommendations or suggestions for your care when you’re unwell,” Mrs Roche said. 

Mrs Treacy said it was difficult to plan for periods of mental illness.

“You don’t know what’s going to happen when you’re unwell,” she said.

Deborah Treacy speaking at the Mind Recovery College Bendigo campus official opening. Picture: EMMA D'AGOSTINO

Deborah Treacy speaking at the Mind Recovery College Bendigo campus official opening. Picture: EMMA D'AGOSTINO

“My journey has been up and down my whole life.”

The 43-year-old has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, severe depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety.

“Two-and-a-half years ago I lost my son – that’s why I suffer from post traumatic stress,” she said.

“Every day that goes through your head, you can’t switch it off. 

“I come here because I enjoy being around people who don’t discriminate and don’t judge.” 

She said she could be herself at the college and take what she wanted to from the lessons.

“You can choose to grow from them or just reflect on them,” she said.

“These days I’m medicated, and you learn to take your medication because you have to. 

“Having these people here at Mind Recovery College, it brings people with a mental illness together.”

Mrs Treacy said coming to the college had helped her realise she was not alone. 

“It’s really hard to try things where I am because I am in such an isolated area and you’re scared of the stigma attached to things as well,” she said.

The college has equipped her with tools and strategies to help her deal with the judgement she feels, living with mental illness in a small community in central Victoria. 

“If something has happened to someone, people don’t know what to say so they will walk the other way,” Mrs Treacy said. 

“They will cross the street to avoid you.

“I try to go back on the college stuff I do and remember those tools I’ve learnt to try to keep me away from the stigma I think people are putting on me.”

She feels she is better able to deal with the perceived prejudices, these days. 

“We are all individuals and we have all got a unique life story,” she said.

Mrs Treacy was hopeful raising awareness of the Bendigo campus of Mind Recovery College would mean other people would benefit from it, as she had. 

Her speech at the official opening this week made Ms Carbines tear up with pride.

As the event emcee, Laurie McDonald, said: 

“There’s nothing like empathy for a person who is struggling to get out of themselves, and that is the key to mental health recovery, to get the person out of themselves.”

For more information about Mind Recovery College in Bendigo, call 03 8698 4060 or email recoverycollege@mindaustralia.org.au

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