I am a staunch mental health advocate who supports progressive policies as well as systemic advancements in care.
I have come to this position through my own lived experience and consumer-focused lens. I have personally walked the rugged path of suffering from chronic mental illness and experienced some of the social issues that it can come with. This has prompted me to become an advocate for change.
As May is Mental Health Awareness month, I’ve been reflecting, and in doing so, one Australian politician’s humble speech to parliament, made in January of this year, stood out to me. It encapsulates a story not just of survival, but also of hope.
This short talk changed the way I feel about mental health reform and reminded me of the importance of always having and giving hope—through opportunity, healthcare, education, and progressive policy making.
From his first speech at just 26 years old, Jackson Taylor MP, who is my local member of parliament in Melbourne’s Outer East in Bayswater, has never once shied away from the tough issues. In fact, in his opening address in parliament he spoke about growing up in humble beginnings in the outer working-class, lower socioeconomic suburb of Dandenong.
He is the middle boy of three sons to his dear late mother, Erin Taylor, who endured significant mental health challenges for which she was hospitalized. He was candid about his far from idyllic home-life, bearing witness to family violence, which even saw him transferred into foster care outside of the immediate family.
His speech hit a couple of nerves with me, especially when he described his family upbringing. This included the house being in darkness for months on end due to his mother’s illness. As a parent and a patient, I know there were early days of my son’s life when I failed to open the blinds to the outside world.
Despite the hardships, Taylor’s story is ultimately one of hope.
Hope: for him and for his dear Mum, who would undoubtedly be proud as punch. Also hope for my own son, for me, and for each of his constituents who are suffering mental health stigma and so desperately in need of representation.
Taylor talked about the struggle to make ends meet. As a mother who has endured long periods of illness, and for the most part, been from a single income family, I felt all that he feels. I can relate to both the sadness and hope in his words:
“My mother suffered from severe depressive and bipolar disorder throughout her adult life, spending stints in the hospital. I remember the constant ups and downs, my mother having the entire house in darkness for months on end, and watching her struggle through her mental health illness. It was ultimately her children who were her main support through the years.”
The social issues that surround mental illness are real. And Taylor is right: “people are suffering” and many are trying to be tough. He has seen it in his personal life and in his role as a sworn Victorian policeman.
Taylor’s story is also one of hope for everyone who has ever faced adversity (be it economic, physical, geographical, psychological, or all of the aforementioned). The message is that with strength, love, nurturing, humility, and tenacity there is always the opportunity for a brighter future.
“It is a reality that my family struggled through social issues like family violence, substance abuse, and mental health…It deeply saddens me that many parts of Bayswater have the highest rates of family violence in the eastern metro area, that 1,321 adult Bayswater residents will experience a severe mental illness every year and that 45 percent of residents will experience a mental health episode in their lifetime. Many of them do not feel comfortable to even begin talking about what it is that they are experiencing. I will be a member of Parliament that not only talks the talk but walks the walk on these issues.”
We need those in power to stay humble, and to fight for justice and equality for all. In particular, we need to help those most vulnerable, including those who, like Jackson Taylor, have experienced a challenging childhood. Taylor encourages all of us to be someone who gives others not just representation, but also opportunities that impact their lives in a positive way.
Most importantly, given that May is Mental Health Awareness Month, what I took from Taylor’s speech was the need to be brave and candid in the very real fight against suicide, stigma, and the social issues surrounding mental illness.
Everyone deserves both hope and a fair go—be it for education, health services, or employment opportunities, plus all the benefits that these encompass. In order to make that happen, we need more people like Jackson Taylor.
There needs to be more of us who are willing to bravely share our stories, humanize our struggles, and take a stand together to plant a seed of hope. It’s up to all of us to act and realize that the time for change is now.
Click here to watch the video or read the speech transcript in full.