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Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System

Personal story:

Sandra

Sandra* leads a happy and healthy life, but she reflected that it was not always that way.

Aged 24 years, she has a history of trauma and abuse, and remarked that she fought for many years to be something other than a diagnosis:

I was made to feel like the way I functioned and was surviving was ‘wrong’ or a ‘problem’ rather than as an understandable response to what I have experienced.

I first reached out for help with my mental health when I was 13, when I became actively suicidal. Despite another few attempts at getting some support (and again feeling misunderstood, patronised and dismissed), my depression continued to go untreated and undiagnosed until I was 16.

As a result of the bullying and sexual assault she had experienced, Sandra developed anorexia nervosa. She says her treatment was not effective. She describes attempting suicide within weeks of starting her treatment.

Sandra’s experience with the public mental health system has included voluntary and involuntary stints in youth and adult facilities, where she believes her treatment was less than helpful:

The default response was to lock me in a cell, drug me and allow me to scream myself hoarse for over an hour until I eventually fell asleep.

Sandra credits the support and treatment obtained via private health insurance with saving her life. To support people properly, she said the system needs to go much further to understand how people’s symptoms come about in the first place, and how to stop people from continually re-entering the system:

I now no longer have nightmares, flashbacks or negative beliefs about myself […] however there will always be some long-lasting impacts of my experiences. I remain scared of small spaces and I have lost trust in doctors, nurses and other health professionals.

I am now happy to report that I am free of the impact of any mental illness and am doing everything I can to support others going through hard times. I am a highly active member of the community and advocate for young people who do not have a voice.

Source: Interim Report, November 2019

Note: *Name has been changed to protect privacy.