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A life changed: understanding mental health through the lens of trauma

Peer Worker, Peer Supervisor and Trainer in mental health details her experiences and how a trauma framework to mental health changed her understanding and life.

“You can never accurately predict what tomorrow will bring. Emma eight years ago would never have predicted the Emma writing about herself today.”

Eight years ago, Emma had just completed her studies when she experienced a crisis and was hospitalised just as she graduated.

Up until that point, she had encountered a range of traumatic experiences that left her feeling out of control and deeply disconnected with her sense of self.

Being hospitalised for two weeks, Emma met a Peer Worker for the first time.

“I met a consumer worker when I was in hospital who told me about their role and supported me whilst I was there.”

“I didn’t even know Peer Workers existed.”

Emma had always wanted to work in a ‘helping’ career, and she decided that being a Peer Worker is exactly what she wanted to do.

After being discharged from hospital, Emma started researching and applying for peer work roles to find out more. She undertook a volunteer Peer Work position and eventually became a part-time Peer Support Worker. Emma says that becoming a Peer Support Worker helped her fit in the world, and with her lived experience, she wanted to help others in the way that she was supported.

“Over the years of delivering peer work across many hospital teams, I learnt more and more about the rich history and vital role of peer work, especially the context of community care, and wanted to do my bit in making sure as many people as possible were working with people in a way that actually supported what we know about the experiences of distress people face.”

Understanding her own mental distress as a reaction to the traumatic circumstances around her, and that this overwhelmed her ability to cope, was one of the biggest turning points for Emma.

“Looking through the lens of trauma, rather than illness, changed my life.”

Rather than having someone ask, ‘what’s wrong with you’, the question became more about, ‘what happened to you’, and from this, she was able to heal.

“Reflecting on my lived experience and how it was often stereotyped or misunderstood even by those closest to me always reminds me to take a step back, stay out of assumption, hold a curious space and learn about the person or people in front of me.”

Emma’s work as a Suicide Prevention Outreach Peer Worker connects her with people at some of their most vulnerable moments, and she helps them by sharing her lived experience, listening without defining or judging and providing solidarity with people who are doing their best to survive.

Alongside this role, Emma also works as an Educator and Supervisor where she facilitates safe learning spaces for a variety of people to learn the basics of mental distress, trauma and how to build nourishing relationships with others who need help. She shares her experiences of becoming a peer worker with others, to help them find their feet and guide their professional development.

Most recently, Emma told her story for an animated short film series on mental health where she describes her experiences growing up, the abusive relationships and ensuing trauma that overwhelmed her ability to cope, and how understanding her mental distress from a trauma framework change her life completely.

Watch Emma’s short film below as part of the Woven Threads second series on mental health.

With deep gratitude to our much respected and valued friend and colleague, Peer Worker, Supervisor and Trainer Emma we share this beautiful story.

If you or someone you know is experiencing emotional distress or thinking about suicide, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. Help is available on the 24/7 phone support line.