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Fighting the Stigma and Winning
Mark grew up in the suburbs of Inner West, Sydney. He describes his childhood as fairly normal. Mark attended a middle class school and achieved good grades.
Being from a mixed cultural background, Mark acknowledges that he did not fit in totally with the Australian culture or the Jewish culture. He had no cultural grounding.
His parents were good to him and gave him a lot of scope to make his own decisions as a child. This autonomy became more challenging when his parents divorced. He experienced more and more family issues as he had to change houses all the time. This affected him growing up.
At age 14, Mark started experimenting with drugs. ‘I started struggling with mental health issues as a teenager. I was using drugs heavily. Marijuana, then ecstasy. I had a few episodes of drug induced psychosis later on’,he explains.
A few years late Mark was older and working at a university. His workload increased significantly during the student exam period. He became overwhelmed, stressed, and experienced bullying and developed anxiety.
Mark’s mental distress reached a tipping point during an exam period where he had 1800 post graduate students to look after within his team. Things became too much and one day he panicked and hid in a fire escape. Mark reached out to a colleague and long-time friend but she did not know what to do. He finally went to his family doctor after this episode but did not reveal the full signs and symptoms he was experiencing.
‘I was lying to her to protect myself from going to hospital. To sort of, or really just pretend to act normal as a protective strategy, generally’,he adds.
During this time, Mark’s mother and his partner became concerned but were not sure how to help. They did not encourage him to get help, perhaps due to the lack of understanding of the situation. Mark’s symptoms worsened.
‘It took 3 days of intense psychosis and mania. They made excuses for that. I chose not to go hospital and it was hard to get me there’,Mark explains.
Eventually, his partner and mother agreed to call the Mental Health Line and the police had to be involved. Mark was taken to a mental health unit.
Looking back, Mark recognises the support that he received from his mother, partner and another friend.
In hospital, Mark received support and treatment for his mental health needs and finding the right medication was a big part of this. Once that happened, Mark began to recover with ongoing support from doctors and nurses.
Mark acknowledges the importance of having peer support workers while in hospital. In his experience, he felt that he did not receive a good level of peer support due to the lack of diverse peer workers available at the time. He could not find someone who could relate to his situation.
Mark is now receiving support and treatment from a community mental health team that has been helpful and communicate well. Mark acknowledges that living in the community has its challenges. Mainly around relapse prevention and stigma associated with mental health.
One of the ways that Mark has learned to manage relapse has been to share his emergency management plan with the people who are close to him. Ongoing support from his family and friends is encouraging him to manage his moods better.
Through his own resilience, Mark has managed to reduce his drinking and quit smoking. Having creative outlets are also important. He has since published a book and completed his PhD thesis. He considers these achievements as a big success of his recovery.
On fighting the stigma, Mark describes his experience
‘As gay man, coming out of the closet was really hard but coming out of the mental health closet was even harder because the stigma is more intense against mental illness than the gay community. When someone say you are schizophrenic, you don’t have to take on that label. Coming out and sharing your story is very important. Coming out to yourself first and then to others…”
Mark has fought battles with stigma and his awareness and acceptance of his challenges have put him on path to his recovery journey and he shares his story as a way to contribute back to the community.Mark hopes his story will inspire men to open up about their struggles and seek help as early as possible. Mark currently works as a Peer Support Worker and his knowledge, skills and experiences make him an important part of the mental health service for people who are on the journey to recovery.
Mark’s story is a part of the Tackling the Challenge Project, a collection of local men’s stories, about resilience and recovery. If you have a story to share or would like to know more, contact Brendan Bennett on 8738 5983 or Brendan.Bennett@health.nsw.gov.au.
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