Warilla man Andy Moller has dealt with mental illness across much of his adult life, leading to multiple hospital admissions.
But Mr Moller has not been admitted to hospital now for over a decade, not since he began participating in an innovative program that brings together people with lived experience of mental illness and health students.
Called Recovery Camp, the program was developed by the University of Wollongong's Professor Lorna Moxham, Dr Chris Patterson and a team of researchers, and this year celebrates its 10th anniversary.
Students on clinical placement and people living with mental illness stay together at Recovery Camp for several days, during which time the attendees share with the students their knowledge and experiences, while together participating in therapeutic, recreational activities like craft and rock climbing.
"Really all those activities are just a means to encourage conversation, encourage connection, and encourage students to learn from people's lived experience," Dr Patterson, a senior lecturer at UOW's School of Nursing, said.
Dr Patterson said Recovery Camp was established to provide professional experience placement for nursing students (although more disciplines were now involved) in a setting that was empowering for patients.
Nurses needed experience of mental health outside of hospital settings, he said, and the program aimed to address stigma and prejudice surrounding mental illness.
"Lots of students go into acute wards and get a very singular lesson of what mental health is," Dr Patterson said.
Mr Moller, who has bipolar II disorder and has experienced depression and anxiety, has attended about 15 camps the camp over the past decade and describes it as a "really positive experience."
Since he started attending he had not had a hospital admission, he said, which was "previously unheard of in my adult life".
Mr Moller said he had discussed the camp with his psychologist, who told him it was cathartic for him to talk about his condition freely in a non-judgemental environment, an opportunity he did not otherwise have.
He said there was a stigma around mental illness and when people heard bipolar disorder, they often heard "psychotic".
But Mr Moller said he explained to students that they were seeing him well, which he was "99.9 per cent of the time" - that even with his illness, he was able to get married, have kids, have a job, and be a functioning member of society.
"The opportunity to talk to nurses about [mental health]... is just brilliant," he said.
Dr Patterson said the camp was having an impact.
"Without a doubt, we see Recovery Camp reducing stigma and prejudice compared to traditional clinical models," he said.
Students came away with a better understanding of mental illness, Dr Patterson said, and higher clinical confidence and competence.
He too said people living with mental illness benefited.
"It is one of empowerment and mental health recovery," Dr Patterson said.
The first Recovery Camp was held at the Y NSW's Camp Yarramundi in the Hawkesbury and continues there to this day, but has since expanded to Victoria and Queensland.
Over 1350 health students have undertaken placement at the camp.
"It's really encouraging for us that there are that many health students out there now that, we think, are working in better ways," Dr Patterson said.