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Mental Health Commission Presents Stories

Mental Health Commission Presents A Gift of Personal Stories

The Rt Hon David Lange will launch A Gift of Stories: Discovering how to deal with mental illness at the mental health Realising Recovery conference in Wellington on 29 November.

University of Otago Press is publishing A Gift of Stories with the Mental Health Commission.

The stories in this book are by people who have at some point in their lives been diagnosed with a mental illness. Mental Health Commissioner Dr Julie Leibrich says that this book is about human experience rather than medical categories. Some people in the book accepted their diagnoses, some did not. Some found the diagnosis helpful, some did not. “Just because a person has a mental illness does not mean that they are always ill,” she said.

“A personal story belongs to the person who lives it, to nobody else, unless that person makes a gift of it,” said Dr Leibrich. “And these kinds of stories are an extraordinary gift, they can say the most significant things about life, even unlock the doors to life - but they take courage to tell.”

Dr Leibrich, who compiled the book, and who tells her own story in the book, said, “The people in this book speak for themselves. I took great care to make sure that these stories are authentic, and that they belong to the people who told them to me.”

Most of the stories, she said, are about serious and life-changing illnesses. “The stories are about the progressive discovery of solutions. While people were telling me their stories, something more expansive than dealing with illness emerged. People talked about the discoveries they had made about themselves - the stories were full of discovery, not just about dealing with mental illness but through dealing with it. People with a mental illness often end up with a great strength of character,” said Dr Leibrich.

Mental illness affects people from all walks of life. Artist Susie Crooks says in her story that rather than a disability, her illness is a creative and positive force. “In the crowd I mix with, eccentricity is quite acceptable. … In my community I’m accepted for who I am.”

Professor Robert Miller, an associate professor at Otago University says at the end of his story about how he has dealt with his illness: ‘You never recover in the sense that this is just one way of growing older. This is my way of maturing and facing the experiences I’ve had, just as everyone grows older in the face of the experiences they’ve had.”

Mary O’Hagan, mental health consultant says, “ … in the end my mental illness opened so many doors for me. It was a terrible experience but it was also really fascinating … And it’s knocked quite a few important life skills into me.”

Susan Tawhai, service co-ordinator for Tuia mental health services at Middlemore Hospital says in her story, “Recovery for me is being able to look at what has happened to me in my life, face it and then deal with it. Recovery to me isn’t getting rid of the symptoms of the illness.”

Dr Leibrich said what came through when listening to these stories is that to deal with your mental illness you have to stay real with yourself, be honest with yourself. She said recovery is progressive, it’s something you learn through and grow through. “It’s a terrible irony that a world which is prejudiced puts pressure on people to be dishonest about themselves, to deny their illness and so to deny themselves,” she said.

The Mental Health Commission is committed to getting rid of the prejudice against mental illness that exists throughout our society. It believes that sometimes stories, rather than facts, figures, and case studies, are the best way to tell the truth. Stories make ideas real, and personal stories go one step further; they fill ideas with meaning.

The book has been produced as part of the work of the Commission’s Anti Discrimination Action Plan Team. The Commission hopes that it will be a powerful resource - a source of inspiration for people with a mental illness and those who are close to them, a special teaching tool for people who work in the mental health area and “ a way of opening doors on mental illness and letting some light in, for all of us,” said Dr Leibrich.

For an interview with Dr Julie Leibrich contact Tessa Castree, Tel: 04 474 8919
or 025 249 2405
About the story gatherer
Dr Julie Leibrich is a Mental Health Commissioner, poet, writer and social science researcher. She has published many books and articles, both scholarly and creative.

Toby Adams, Jonathan Rodgers, Susan Butler, Denise, Susie Crooks, Pat Cumming,
Lynda Delamore, Vincent Reidy, Willie Lyden, Graham Johnson, Robert Miller,
Mary O'Hagan, Sara Pokoati, Patte Randal, John, Susan Tawhai, Tessa Thompson,
Julie Leibrich, Kathyn McNeil, Terry Stewart

TITLE A Gift of Stories
Discovering how to deal with mental illness
EDITOR Julie Leibrich
PUBLISHER University of Otago Press & the Mental Health Commission
CATEGORY Mental health, family health
FORMAT 220 x 210 mm, paperback EXTENT 192 pp
ISBN 1 877133 83 3 PRICE 39.95
RIGHTS World DUE November 1999

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