AUTHOR-illustrator Alison Smith wants to keep starting conversations and promote understanding about mental illness.
Now Ms Smith has an international stage to speak.
Ms Smith and Ballarat Health Services education manager and senior psychiatric nurse Julia Hailes are co-presenting a session for TheMHS annual conference in Auckland this week. It is the biggest mental health forum for both consumers and clinicians in Australia and New Zealand.
They were invited to talk Stigmabusters, booklets distributed across BHS’ mental health and welfare services to help children understand mental conditions, holistic therapies and to promote acceptance – booklets that also are proving conversation starters for adults.
For the conference, the focus is on Ms Smith and Ms Hailes’ consumer-clinician approach which they say was an organic process.
Ms Smith started creating her child-like drawings and words while hospitalised eight years ago with bipolar. She wanted a way to explain to her young grandson Jakob what was happening in a complex situation. And so, five-year-old Professor Jake emerged, navigating his way through loved ones in his world with bipolar, schizophrenia, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder and depression.
“(Collaboration) has what’s been important – lived experience and that of a clinician,” Ms Smith said. “It’s been magic working with Julia, we’re really in sync putting them out there.”
Ms Smith has found as “cloud of self-stigma” about her gradually lifting as she becomes more comfortable with talking about her story.
She wants people to acknowledge and get help before they let mental niggles go on too long.
International travel for the conference is a big step for Ms Smith in her mental health journey but she was keen to learn more from key note speakers and seek ideas about what could be possible for Ballarat. Ms Hailes would be by her side.
“I was a bit worried early on about the travel and Alison’s health but she said to me, ‘if I am unwelll, you can help me manage it and if you fall over and get hurt, I will help you and bandage you’,” Ms Hailes said. “An that’s really what it is about.”
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.