Milly is a 29-year-old mum raising two young children while recovering from mental illness. She recently shared her experiences with us of being supported by Tam, one of our parent peer support workers who is also a parent with similar lived experience of mental illness.
How did you first connect with our Parent Peer Support program?
It took about 4 years of reaching out and vulnerably explaining my mental health difficulties to a number of different health professionals. I reached out for help through my son’s paediatrician, who first referred us to an agency and they accepted that I needed help with my mental health as well. I then got referred to MIFWA.
What type of support were you seeking at the time?
Things I needed help with at the time included being able to leave my house confidently, because anything that did involve me needing to leave the house was aggravating to my mental health. When I started receiving support from MIFWA, my friendships were quite unhealthy, and I really needed to learn through role modelling of what a healthy relationship looks like. I also needed support to learn how to look after myself in daily living activities as I held very little awareness and experienced great difficulty in this area, doing basic things like shopping and self-care was a challenge. I didn’t really have a sense of self or know who I was. It was very overwhelming and emotional, always.
When I got the help from MIFWA, I really liked that they considered the compatibility of interests and personal values, the organisation matched me with Tam who is my parent peer support worker. It was positive as I wanted someone who I could trust and talk with, through my challenges and the situations that I was experiencing. It has been nice to build a rapport with Tam and have support to go for a walk, write my to-do lists down or talk about my therapy. Tam helps me organise my thoughts when I get intrusive thinking patterns, especially about the system, as the system has proven to me that I can’t trust it. Tam helps me with understanding why I can’t trust some systems and where that distrust comes from.
Another big part of what Tam has been able to support me with is finding my own place within my family of me and my two children. This has assisted me to understand my family dynamic, and has helped me recognise my own identity without feeling consumed by the children. It has previously been my go-to, to distract myself with the children’s needs by looking after them without considering my own needs, which is not healthy for any of us. Tam really supported me in learning this by showing me that I can be my own person with them.
Was it easy to get a referral to access support?
I will be very honest, I had to tell the health professionals the raw truth which was that I couldn’t do this anymore and I really need help because I am not managing on any level. I was at a breaking point to be able to get that referral and I had asked multiple times prior for assistance, and the common response that I would receive was, “Oh, it’s okay, you’ll be fine.” So, it took a lot of effort to even know about this referral option. I can’t count how many emails and phone calls I made to reach out for help, where I asked for help and exposed my vulnerabilities.
Then Claire from MIFWA called me and followed up promptly after the referral was made. Mid-2021, I had a discussion with MIFWA about my situation, and explained what was going on at that time. I was very honest with her and felt validated and like she understood my experience. Claire said that she was going to arrange a meet-and-greet.
Thinking about the support from Tam, what are some of the goals she’s helping you achieve?
Tam has supported me with positive hopeful support in the way of having a chat over a cup of tea and with leaving the house to access the community. She helps me with going places that I want to go and things that I want to do. Tam enables me to do things that I want to do for my recovery. We created a goal for me to work on my daily planning, where she sits with me and I will organise my life and write it out. She is also able to support me when I have a question or ask her opinion of “how would you do this?” as I’m quite inquisitive, so this helps me.
On school holidays, when my kids are home, Tam doesn’t judge me or my family dynamic as my children experience high behaviours of concern. She is really supportive and says things like, “You approached that really well.” Which really backs me up and helps me navigate my parenting and caring role, It is extremely validating.
What has been the biggest impact of getting that support?
Definitely helping me find my own self, finding out who Milly is. It’s helped me a lot, with the discussions that we’ve been able to have and with the trust I have developed with Tam, as I don’t trust many people. That is what I like about MIFWA, the support lasts as needed and provides enough time to build trust, it doesn’t just cut off when you’re really needing the support.
So, it’s important to have that ongoing, hopeful support?
Yeah, definitely. It’s nice.
On that note, what qualities make a peer worker a great peer worker to work with?
I think having similar interests as the person you’re supporting is vital, and I think it’s really important for the peer worker to come in with non-judgmental stance and use a balanced approach. I think that’s what’s so great about Tam, as that is one of my goals — to be balanced.
Since getting out of the house had been a challenge for you, have you been able to participate in any of the MIFWA events for parents?
I’ve gone to the Christmas group event last year. That’s the only one that I have gone to. I was so nervous most of the time, but it was really nice because it allowed the kids to come as well and that helped me feel better. Everyone there was very kind, friendly and welcoming. It was quite a positive experience for someone that really doesn’t get out much.
We’ve talked about how peer support has helped you. What about your children? What impact has it had on your children?
It’s helped them understand that I am a human too and shown them to be a little bit more respectful toward me. Having someone come over who shows me respect in front of my children taught them that it is not going to be appropriate to be hit me or call me abusive names. That behaviour has come down a lot because, they see that someone else is respecting me and that is not how Mum is meant to be treated. It has been really positive to show them that I am a person too, not just a punching bag. It has really prepared me to be able to take the kids out to the park or to the museum independently. We couldn’t do a lot of that kind of thing before as I was too scared and anxious. It’s done a lot for the kids having the peer support work. The parent program, I think it’s really good. Tam being a mum, I feel if you’re talking to another mum, they just get it.
That’s fantastic. Any other goals you’d like to achieve next?
I am finishing up my dialectical behavioural therapy or DBT for short. It has been 18 months I’ve been doing that and that’s my therapy. This has helped me work on incorporating daily mindfulness into my life, practicing emotional regulation, using distress tolerance and interpersonal effectiveness.
I have been offered a scholarship through the Carers program through Carers WA. So now I am doing my Diploma of Community Services.
Thank you, I’m really excited about it. I am looking forward to using my DBT skills independently and furthering my education and putting myself out there a bit more.
You feel the peer support has helped you gain confidence to study?
Definitely. I think it’s really good as well because Tam, my peer support worker, studies as well. I’ve been able to ask her about her experience and how does she navigate the challenges that have come up over COVID-19. It helped me think about my future and the everyday challenges that come up for everyone. It has been helpful to see someone else go through it and cope with study and still be okay, you don’t have to let one thing just ruin it all. This has given me heaps of hope to be able to get through the study again.
Any advice for other parents who are unsure how to ask for support?
I think it’s important for people to know that asking for help, it’s really scary. But the individuals that work in the system are there to help. Most health professionals want to help people, and they can’t help you if you’re not verbalising and telling them that you need help, they won’t know you need it. Please speak up so you and your family can get support.
About Parent Peer Support Program
Our experienced peer workers are parents who have overcome their own mental health challenges. They offer education and practical and moral support to help you develop coping strategies, set small manageable goals, build confidence, self-esteem and resilience, and manage routines in the home and family structure. Read more about our Parent Peer Support Program.