Helen’s Story – Part 1
There are many different experiences in life that can affect our mental health – from everyday stresses to much larger, life altering traumatic events. Helen found herself entangled in Australia’s justice system after she was arrested and endured 22 months of bail followed by a year in prison.
Helen’s story is one marked by struggles with her mental health as a bi-product of going through an incredibly tumultuous time in her life. Her recovery is a journey and one that’s been supported by family, friends and, in particular, gaining employment upon her release from prison.
An uncomfortable topic to talk about
“It’s hard to share,” Helen offers. “It’s not really a very socially acceptable topic. You know, someone says they’ve been through a divorce and people get it. But if you say that you’ve been to prison, it doesn’t land in the same way.”
While it might not be a topic spoken about regularly, incarceration has a huge impact on the mental health of women in Australia. As they enter prison, close to 2 in 3 females do so with a mental health condition. And it’s estimated that around 98% of incarcerated females have a history of trauma or victimisation.
Finding the right support
As someone who had spent her adult life ‘pushing through’ her own mental health issues – including a diagnosis of depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation in 2011 – Helen now recognises the importance of speaking up and getting the right support.
“Having someone on your side, like a friend or family member, or anyone that you can relate to, is key,” She explains. “I had a friend at the start who just saw the struggle of my mental health and said, ‘what are we going to do about this?’ Having someone who sees it and doesn’t try to fix it, is very helpful.”
The power of purpose
“I’ve reflected on this a lot,” Helen offers. “I see my situation and what other women have gone through in the system and I know that I’ve got my skin color, an education and other positives that definitely play a role. But I keep thinking: how have I been able to go in this more productive direction, and it’s really hard for other people?”
This is a question that often lingers in the minds of anyone who’s been through a traumatic event and lived to tell their story. For Helen, there was one key step that paved the way to where she is now: uncovering and tapping into her purpose.
“I was released from prison and I started work the very next day. I remember my brother saying to me ‘I know what you need – you need purpose’, and turns out he was right! I didn’t go straight into full-time work, but I worked every day, for four hours a day. It was a huge anchor for me and a pretty significant support in a transition like that.”
It wasn’t just any job that Helen started, but one that resonated with what she valued and was connected to her career before her incarceration.
“I think a big part for me has been helping people,” she reflects. “That’s been a theme in my life. So translating that into a job that’s also got boundaries, routine, structure and protective factors was life changing.”
“Also knowing that some people at my workplace knew my history and understood, it helped me feel safe and like I didn’t have to explain myself if I needed to step away for a day.”
Stay tuned for Part two
In part two, we’ll share some of the powerful mental health tools Helen practices. But in the interim, if you or someone you know is navigating life after a mental health crisis and has NDIS funding, contact us. Our Recovery Coaches can be there every step of the way.