The power of shared stories

  • Kane Stewart, Tumbarumba, NSW.
    Kane Stewart, Tumbarumba, NSW.
  • Julie Andreazza, Willbriggie, NSW.
    Julie Andreazza, Willbriggie, NSW.
Melissa Neal
By
Murrumbidgee Primary Health Network
Melissa Neal,
Chief Executive Officer
Issue
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Everyone has a story to tell. In fact, sharing our lives and experiences through story is an important human experience. Stories help connect us by overcoming our differences. They start important conversations and help us understand our place in the world.

In the same way stories have been used for centuries to pass down knowledge and bring people together, Murrumbidgee Primary Health Network is continuing that long tradition through its Tell it Well story series.

Since launching in 2019, Tell it Well has shared stories from a range of people from all walks of life, including people with lived experience of mental health challenges. The idea of the series is simple: get the message out that people experiencing mental health challenges are not alone and there is support available.

There is a strong evidence base for storytelling and its benefits in improving mental health and wellbeing. Through sharing stories from local people, Tell it Well aims to inspire hopefulness and encourage people to connect with supports. And, judging by social media engagement, these stories are reaching thousands of people.

Our storytellers are real and generous. They live in our communities and they connect with people and deliver messages in a way that health professionals often can’t. Their courage and willingness to share their deeply personal stories are making a difference.

One storyteller is 20-year-old Kane Stewart. Growing up in Tumbarumba in the Snowy Valleys of New South Wales, Kane stood out at school as the kid who liked dancing. He was bullied for being ‘girly’ and, in high school, the bullying centred on his sexuality.

During those difficult times, Kane had a small group of people who supported and accepted him, including his school counsellor, a few teachers and the school chaplain – the same role he now fills, providing peer support to Tumbarumba High School students.

‘Dealing with the struggles in my life has been a long journey that I continue to this day. My faith, my support network and being able to speak to professionals to get help when needed are key to staying on top of my mental wellbeing.

‘Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of connection. So, when we talk about our lived experience of mental health, it’s powerful.

‘That’s why I’m sharing my story. At first, I was scared. It's hard to be open and vulnerable. Then I thought, “If not me, then who?” Because, when I was 15, not being able to accept who I was and hating myself every day, I needed somebody to say that it's going to be okay. If I can be that to one person, then I will have achieved more than I could imagine.’

Fellow storyteller Julie Andreazza is a mother of four and a proud Australian farmer who runs a mixed cropping operation with husband, Glen, in Willbriggie near Griffith, New South Wales.

Having farmed for more than 30 years, Julie knows firsthand the hardships of life on the land. She has experienced challenges with her mental health and says that communicating with others is vital to mental wellbeing.

‘I think the most important thing is educating people and talking is how you do that. It’s why I'm sharing my story. It's okay to talk about your challenges. Use your voice. Communicate. I have a positive story and I just want to tell everyone. Because I'm so proud of my kids, I'm so proud of my husband and I'm proud of myself because we did it together. We got here and I live to tell the story and I want everyone else to be able to do the same.’

To read more about the Tell it Well series, visit mphn.org.au/tellitwell

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