This elephant takes one to a ‘Journey of Wellbeing’

By Manju Mittal

Tamil Woman’s Development Group ( TWDG ) in collaboration with ”˜Haathi in the Room’ (HIR)  hosted a ”˜Journey to Wellbeing’ afternoon tea at Parramatta RSL Club on Saturday May 4, 2019,  with a focus on mental health. While the winter sun was shining outside, inside the club all the ladies from TWDG and HIR were wearing green outfits as the theme of the event colour was green.

It was a huge success with likeminded attendees turning up to support the charity event. Julie Owens MP for Parramatta, Julia Finn MP for Granville, media and medical practitioners were also present. The event was a call to the South Asian community in Sydney to join in an important conversation about mental health and promote the overall health and wellbeing of the community. Based on research evidence that indicates the need for mental health awareness advocacy in the South Asian community ”˜Journey to Wellbeing’ is a unique mental health promotion initiative, the second of such collaborations by TWDG and HIR, designed to raise awareness, combat stigma around the condition and address issues specific to the community.

The aim of the event was to inspire people to have more open conversations, spend more time with people you care about, quality time and conversation with them can strengthen relationships on which we rely on for support when life gets tough.  Mental well being is equally important as much as physical wellbeing and both are interrelated.

The keynote speaker Joe Lander Artist in Residence, Macquarie University Centre for Emotional Health Department of Psychology presented ”˜Portraits of Recovery’ a series of portraits of male subjects who are on the road to recovery from mental health issues. This is an academic project that blurred the boundaries between the arts and mental health research. Mr Lander spoke about his own struggle with mental illness and the need for support and understanding in society in general for those challenged by mental health issues

Joe Lander had one of his large canvases on display and brought along with him the subject of that portrait, Daniel Di Fluri. Mr Lander explained the journey he had taken to produce the series of paintings and showed slides of his other portraits. The range of ages, professions and cultural backgrounds of his sitters demonstrated clearly that mental illness does not discriminate. There were poignant stories attached to each of the portrait and the last one he showed was that of a 14-year-old boy moved many. What was made clear in this presentation was that like physical conditions such as the diabetes, mental illness required ongoing management and care and support not only by the therapists and the medical practitioners but most importantly by the family, friends and society at large.

Daniel Di Fluri also spoke about his struggle and the difficulties he encountered as a person with mental illness and the challenges he still faces to speak openly about it to people around him due to the stigma around mental health issues. At he end presentation by Mr Landers audience asked questions about what the sitters felt when they were being painted and how that impacted their wellbeing and life in general. Mr Lander said that all his sitters had found it a positive experience and they found some relief sharing their story when being painted and the exercise helped in their healing process. If the artist would consider to continue the series with female subjects was also raised and he answered that even being here at this event he had never envisaged when he started the project that there was always room for it to grow further.

The sombre and thought provoking nature of the previous speaker’s subject matter was very gently shifted to a meditative mood with an interlude of music played by school student Jathushan Jeyarasa, a beautiful rendition on the reed flute.

The next speaker Cecille Sy an ambassador for Beyond Blue shared her insight and about managing her mental health. Her presentation highlighted the stressors that migrants encounter moving to Australia and the added layer of cultural and family expectations that impact mental health that many from culturally and linguistically diverse ( CALD ) communities face. Her story would have resonated with the audience who would have experienced similar migrant stories. It was quite inspiring and emotional to hear her story and to feel the bond thus developed.

The final segment at ”˜Journey to Wellbeing’ was an interactive workshop on resilience and management in the workplace by Mary McNamara from Wesley Mission. A simple but effective take home self-care message from this workshop was recognising ANTs in our lives ”“ Automatic Negative Thoughts and how to challenge and contradict them and to inculcate mindfulness practices into daily life to help build resilience.

Megha Agarwal conducted a short meditation session when all took part in a simple breathing exercise that could be of use when stressed or at any time to calm oneself. The event ended with raffle prizes and everyone found the whole experience quite relaxing, informative and stress free. Guests mingled and mixed bonding with each other making friends and enjoying sipping afternoon tea and delicious vegetarian sandwiches.

Sue Advani was very pleased with all proceeds going to ”˜Beyond Blue’, a charity that works to reduce stigma attached to mental illness and raise awareness about depression, anxiety and suicide prevention. Event organisers thanked the guests, media and the ladies for their support in making the afternoon memorable one.

The event was a wonderful experience.  It was a great opportunity to hear the views of some women and members from the community. They provided great suggestions and insights into how to improve our mental health. It was great to have ”˜Me’ time and  I was lucky enough to melt into meditation and leave feeling positive and nourished. I am sure everyone felt the same who attended this relaxing afternoon.

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