Mind over mental illness

On the third floor of the Morley Johnson Building in Bendigo is a place for people who have experienced mental illness to learn from each other and grow.

People crowded into Morley’s Emporium this week to celebrate the official launch of Mind Recovery College in Bendigo, one of nine campuses nationwide. 

The Mind Australia initiative offers courses taught by people who have used the skills they are sharing in their own journeys, to people interested in learning more about mental health.

Some of the teachers have been directly affected by mental illness – others have been carers. 

Students can include people recovering from a mental illness, loved ones, carers, and health professionals.

Video from the Mind Recovery College website.

Murray Primary Health Network chief executive officer Matt Jones said there was “great value” in enabling people to be students in their recovery rather than recipients of health services.

“We are pleased we have been able to support the opening of the Bendigo campus of Mind Recovery College, underpinned by a local partnership with Loddon Mallee Murray Partners in Recovery,” he said.   

Loddon Mallee Murray Partners in Recovery manager Alistair Bonsey agreed.

“Having all aspects of the operation carried out with people with mental illness and carers in the driving seat is a major positive step forward,” he said.

About 40 students have been studying 14 short courses offered at the Bendigo campus since February. June courses include managing stress, food and mood, and challenging stigma. 

All courses are free for students this year, with the support of Loddon Mallee Murray PIR.

TEAM EFFORT: New Mind Recovery College Bendigo learning and development coordinator Sue Hinton receives a baton from SallyRose Carbines signifying a new phase. Picture: EMMA D'AGOSTINO

TEAM EFFORT: New Mind Recovery College Bendigo learning and development coordinator Sue Hinton receives a baton from SallyRose Carbines signifying a new phase. Picture: EMMA D'AGOSTINO

A baton passed to Bendigo campus learning and development coordinator Sue Hinton by predecessor SallyRose Carbines during the opening ceremony signified the transition to a growth phase. 

The campus aims to expand its course range and attract more students. 

There are supports in place for people travelling to the campus from outside Bendigo.

Emcee Laurie McDonald said mental health issues lead to an enormous loss of productivity, but more significant was the loss of the person’s perceived worth.

“Each person who suffers from a mental health issue has an enormous potential to continue to help others to grow and that’s the beauty of the Mind Recovery College – it is taught by peers, people who have lived experience like myself, like many of the people here, and it is a model that has become increasingly favoured in the past few years,” he said.

The Mind Recovery College was inspired by a model of teaching developed in the United Kingdom.

Teaching helps with healing

SHARING WISDOM: Mind Recovery College Bendigo campus teacher Maree Roche. Pictures: EMMA D'AGOSTINO

SHARING WISDOM: Mind Recovery College Bendigo campus teacher Maree Roche. Pictures: EMMA D'AGOSTINO

For Maree Roche, teaching at the Mind Recovery College Bendigo campus has been a way to give back.

She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder five years ago after a medical procedure “unexpectedly flipped a switch in my brain.”

Being a teacher has enabled Mrs Roche to share what has worked for her, inspire hope in others, and embrace vulnerability as courage. “It is a place that fosters resilience, esteem, hope and is a true creator,” she said. 

After her diagnosis, the former academic and and qualified teacher said she imposed glass ceilings on herself. She quit her job and was afraid to look for choices.  

“Sometimes we have this fixed identity where we shift our own reality like chess pieces around this imaginary chess board to ensure it conforms with our idea of what and who we are meant to be, what mental illness looks like, and who we are with it,” Mrs Roche said.

“Recovery, for me, is taking those chess pieces and the chess board, throwing them out and swapping it for a game of Twister instead.”

She said Mind Recovery College was special because it changed the dynamic most people are accustomed to when seeking help for a mental health issue.

“People are there as learners, rather than clients or patients,” she said.

“It’s a great place to hang out to meet others dealing with similar issues.”

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