SAMANTHA Scott did not identify herself as ‘the carer’ when her daughter Hayley Harris’ deteriorating mental health caused her to become desperate for help.
Her primary role as a devoted mother was to find a way through the mental health service maze to save her child.
“In that moment, it was really difficult trying to find support and each day Hayley was becoming more anxious and more withdrawn,” she said.
“I’d worked in community services and co-ordinated a carer support program, but I didn’t see myself as ‘the carer’; I was simply Hayley’s mum.”
She said the breakthrough came when she related to the need for carers to have support and education and to be treated with respect.
“It reframed the situation and now I try help others find where they fit within our complicated mental health system,” she said.
A 12-week peer education program led to the ‘a-ha moment’ and a new pathway for the mother and daughter from Mt Helena.
“I learned what might be happening to someone in the role of carer; the grief, the loss and the constant worry of being in a state of hypervigilance, trying to work out the risk,” Ms Scott said.
Ms Harris was 14 years old when she first attempted to take her life.
“I’d lived with depression and anxiety since I was very young and at high school it became severe,” she said.
The panic attacks started in Year 11. She dropped out of school and became housebound.
A year later she made a second attempt on her life.
“Through the process of mum trying to get help, she attended a family workshop and slowly I began to accept support,” Ms Harris said.
“There is a stigma around mental health and just being able to actually talk about it with others is a release.”
Ms Scott and Ms Harris now use their learned experiences to provide peer-based recovery and carer programs at the Midland hub of the Mental Illness Fellowship of WA, along with workshops to encourage a wider community approach to suicide prevention.
Ms Harris said the recovery program was a life raft where people rediscovered their dreams and goals.
She used it as a springboard to become a sign language interpreter and she began to sing again with a band.
As she reflected on her 25-year-old self, Ms Harris said she saw how far she’d travelled and the life skills learnt along the way.
“Mum saved my life and I built the life rafts to stay afloat,” she said.