It took years for Woonona’s Madelaine Dunning-Baker to speak out about her mental health issues, but now she’s leading the charge.
The 21-year-old was the ambassador for Wollongong’s fifth Walk of Pride on Thursday – an annual event which promotes acceptance and understanding.
She led hundreds of Illawarra residents with a mental illness, their carers and supporters, and local service providers in the walk which culminated in an expo in Wollongong mall.
The theme of this year’s event was ‘Share the Journey’; something Ms Dunning-Baker said has helped her to finally fight her demons.
‘’My journey started many years ago – I remember at the age of six or seven looking in the mirror and worrying about what I saw,’’ she said.
‘’That led to disordered eating, to depression and anxiety, for many years – but it really got bad during my HSC years due to the stress I was under.
‘’I started uni and my depression and anxiety spiked, I developed anorexia and I opted out of my degree.’’
Fortunately Ms Dunning-Baker has got past those dark days with the support of family and friends and, while she still has her bad days, she now knows where to turn for help.
Last year she won the Michael Heald award in the Highlights on Mental Health Awards, after raising awareness on the issue and funds for the Light and Hope Clubhouse.
‘’Speaking out has really helped me and that’s why I want to encourage others to seek help,’’ she said.
The Wollongong event, organised by ARAFMI Illawarra, is one of a range of activities being held around the nation as part of Mental Health Month.
South Coast Private Hospital CEO Kim Capp said such events not only helped stop the stigma of mental illness – which will affect one in four people at some point in their lives – they helped raise awareness about the supports available.
‘’For me this is a very important event for the community, for people who live with a mental health condition, their families and service providers,’’ she said.
‘’We know how very difficult it is for people to navigate the mental health system – so the expo provides them with a one-stop-shop to find out about all the services available in the community.
‘’Of course as well as educating our community about what’s out there, it’s also a celebration of well-being.’’
As part of the awareness month, Wollongong City Gallery is hosting an exhibition of artworks by patients from the Wollongong mental health hospital.
Ms Capp said the exhibition, which will run until November 6, demonstrates the amazing impact art therapy can have.