ABIGAIL'S STORY: FIGHTING BACK AGAINST STIGMA AND DISCRIMINATION
Last August I experienced really bad treatment by a psychiatrist.
I had been severely assaulted in a domestic violence situation. It catapulted me into a mental health episode. I was drinking and taking a lot of drugs to try and block out some of the distress I felt. I did some crime and ended up on charges. It got to a point where I decided I didn’t want to live anymore. I gathered together a lot of oxy-contin and several bottles of alcohol.
Before I could follow through, my mother tried to get me some help. I had been in this emotional space before and she recognised the signs. On the previous occasion, I was assessed by a psychiatric team, diagnosed as psychotic and sent to a lock-up ward for 2 months. I came out with better mental health. Based on that experience, my mother thought it important that I be assessed by a psychiatrist as soon as possible.
The appointment was a disaster. The psychiatrist did not look into my previous mental health history and didn’t even read any of my medical files from that hospital. He would not let me speak and would not listen to my mother who was trying to explain the situation. Instead he focused on my drug and alcohol use and my legal problems. He told me I was a junkie who needed to be put in jail, that I was just trying to use a “get out of jail free” card.
I had been completely shut down by this man. His report was based on stigma and discrimination and contained no mention of my mental health or domestic violence history.
My mother was so distraught that she had a mini-stroke when the police took me away in the paddy wagon. She ended up in Emergency and still has issues with facial palsy. I should have been in a mental health facility not a jail. That psychiatrist’s discrimination did not just affect me, it affected my whole family.
As for me, I ended up in Silverwater on his recommendation, still in a psychotic state. My mother fought for me and I was thankfully accepted by a rehab.
When I was in there, I saw a NUAA flyer in the hallway advertising a stigma and discrimination project. My experience was still very raw so I rang the NUAA worker. Once I was out of rehab, we met up to talk about what training was on offer.
I ended up at a Consumer Academy course. It was fantastic. I felt very comfortable there. After being so rudely shut down, I was given my voice back. I wanted to express my views and share my experience. I was interested to hear about other people’s experiences of discrimination limiting their access to services. The trainers’ stories were so inspiring I felt empowered. I really want to become a Peer Support Worker and stand up for my community.
After that course, I attended a specific Stigma and Discrimination Workshop. That was amazing both for the opportunity to share my story and in terms of getting fired up to support others. It makes me so angry that so many people who use drugs are looking for help and support but are not able to access services because of discrimination.
One thing I learned at the Stigma and Discrimination Workshop was that people judge us because they don’t really understand. I know how that feels.
I also learned that we don’t have to put up with it. I now know how it feels to be inspired to fight for my rights and I am working on a formal complaint against that psychiatrist right now. I hope sharing my experience of discrimination will inspire others to stand up for their rights.
I thoroughly recommend NUAA training. I feel supported by my community and I believe that I can support others too. I can’t wait to do more workshops.