The power of lived experience in mental health

May 20, 2021 | Blog, Recovery Coaching

A photo of a woman who has just climbed a large outdoor timber staircase.

The power of lived experience in mental health

Often the focus in mental health is on mental illness, not mental wellness. Discovering the ingredients that lead to wellness is a personal journey, but it’s not one you have to undertake alone. 

Meet Uani, she’s an NDIS Recovery Coach at One Good* Day in Brisbane. As a proud Māori woman hailing from Raglan, a small town on New Zealand’s north island, her story is one that many women – especially young mums – may relate to. It’s a story of how a shift in perspective, combined with some really powerful tools, can transform your life for the better. 

A long and winding road

At 17, Uani gave birth to her daughter. She showed early signs of experiencing what was then referred to as the ‘baby blues’. Her GP and midwife said she most likely had postnatal depression. 

“It felt like an ongoing nightmare,” Uani confesses, “and I didn’t receive much support, so I ran away from the diagnosis. For 10 to 12 years I managed it on my own, but I made choices that weren’t great for me or my relationships.”

During that time, Uani had a lot of resistance to clinical intervention. She believes it may have come from a lack of trust in Western medicines’ approach to supporting indigenous health. But when she started working as a youth worker in mental health, she began to realise that sharing her lived experience opened up a path towards wellness and healing that she didn’t know was possible. 

Taking ownership of her recovery

After working in the industry for around five to seven years, Uani set up her own Wellness Recovery Action Plan or WRAP. This self-designed wellness plan is used to help an individual manage their psychosocial disability, create the life they want and stay well. 

“I knew the insides and outsides of my illness, but had never, in all of my years, considered what mental wellness looks like,” she explains. 

A WRAP encouraged Uani to explore the questions: “How do you know you’re well?” and “What keeps you well?” She created a crisis plan, post-crisis plan and discovered a range of simple tools that could help her stay well on a daily basis. Uani could use her WRAP at any time, on any day, particularly when she noticed any stressors or early warning signs that might signal that things could be getting worse. 

What she recognised was that there are an abundance of tools, resources and support available to nurture her wellness journey – including her own intuition.

“Once I shifted and moved myself to a place of ‘there are things I can do’ and there are other things people can do to support my health, I was then able to open up to receive external support that added to the knowledge I’ve collected over time about the things I know that support my health.”

Vulnerability and transformation 

One of the most important lessons Uani has learned is how valuable her own lived experience is when it comes to mental wellness. Through recovery coaching, she’s witnessed powerful transformations in people’s lives that have mirrored her experience of creating a WRAP. 

“As facilitators of WRAP, we have to be prepared to share our own vulnerabilities. This is a fundamental principle to the recovery coaching relationship. We need to be living WRAP in the same way we are asking another to live WRAP,” she explains. 

Her experience of WRAP has been so profound that it encouraged her to go out and seek her own learning about wellness. Uani even participated in extra training with the QLD Mental Health Commission where she learned about the Wheel of Wellbeing. This holistic model shares a lot of similarities with ‘te whare tapa whā’, the four cornerstones of Māori health, and it’s a tool she uses to check in with herself regularly.  

Mental wellness is a practice

Uani reminds us that staying well doesn’t stop once we feel better: “Depression keeps showing up in my life – at work, in relationships, and I still struggle with perfectionism,” she says. “But I’ve been learning that mental wellness is a practice in itself, like physical health – it’s something we have to do, see, touch and feel.” 

Similarly, her WRAP is a living document that she continues to breathe life into and it’s how she approaches her work as a Recovery Coach with One Good* Day. 

Explore multiple pathways to wellness with us

Our Recovery Coaches, like Uani, can support you on your journey to mental wellness. To see if we’re the right fit for you, contact us for more information. 

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