Survivor uses his mental health experience to help others during lockdown

Mental health peer worker Mitch Farrell

Warning: This story contains references to suicide that may be distressing. If you need support, you can talk to someone at any time by calling Lifeline on 13 11 14.

When Mitch Farrell talks to people struggling with their mental health, he can honestly say he knows how they’re feeling.

Mitch first experienced anxiety and depression as a high school student, and in the years that followed he struggled with suicidal thoughts and post-traumatic stress disorder.

He is now a lived experience peer worker with the Towards Zero Suicides team at Western Sydney Local Health District, meaning he uses his own experience to help others experiencing a suicidal crisis – as he explains on the latest episode of the Western Sydney Health Check podcast.

“Being through my recovery, and still going through my recovery, I guess I want to use my experience to show people that recovery is possible,” Mitch said.

“There is light on the other side of the tunnel. You can get through this, and if it means anything, I’m going to be there to support you.

“Empathy and understanding, being non-judgemental. These are pillars of what I’d call peer work.”

Mitch and his fellow peer workers play a vital role in WSLHD’s Mental Health Services alongside clinical roles including psychologists and psychologists.

WSLHD Towards Zero Suicides team (from left) Alan Earls, Rowena Saheb, Mitch Farrell, Aisha Mohammed and Matthew Gerts. Not pictured: Maja Niksic

In addition to walking alongside consumers, they also help design services to best meet people’s needs. This includes two new suicide prevention initiatives to be launched in western Sydney later this year: a drop-in centre and an outreach team.

“They’ll be genuine alternatives to people presenting to the ED with suicidal ideation. They’re designed to support consumers in a crisis,” Mitch said.

“When I was going through my stuff, a lot of these services didn’t exist. It’s only in the last decade that it’s become more prominent and we’ve started to change how we think and how we act.

“I know for a fact that if I just had more people who were willing to listen to me and not just label me with a diagnosis – treat the person and not just treat the illness – I would have been far better for it.”

Learn more about these initiatives and hear more of Mitch’s story in the latest episode of our podcast.

The program also features an interview with WSLHD Mental Health Services executive director Professor Vlasios Brakoulias, discussing the mental health impact of lockdown.

Professor Brakoulias explains the psychology behind some common lockdown behaviour and feelings, and offers tips for looking after your own mental health.

Help is always available if you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health issue:

To learn more about mental health services available in western Sydney, call the Mental Health Access Line anytime on 1800 011 511. In an emergency, always call triple zero (000).