A survivor of child sex abuse has been a part of a "life-changing" initiative for those with lived experiences of battling mental health.
Penny Bartholomew, 65, was one of more than 20 participants "roughing it" at Wagga's first Recovery Camp alongside health professionals and nursing students to get to the heart of the problems they face.
The program is an evidence-based adventure initiative for two main groups: nursing students and those with lived experiences of mental health, including depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia.
Ms Bartholomew has been diagnosed with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and passionate grief as well as multiple sclerosis.
When she heard about the program, she signed herself up. But, as the date came closer, Ms Bartholomew thought she would not go after all.
"I am glad I did come," she said. "Because it was such a warm, non-judgmental space, and everyone was so friendly and accepting."
Ms Bartholomew set herself two goals for the week: to give everything a go and to learn coping strategies for the overwhelming grief from multiple traumas.
"That came to the fore when just before Christmas 2020, I had eight people I knew pass away, including two sisters," she said. "I learnt new strategies to cope with that and also some of the other issues."
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Ms Bartholomew said the camp was a "life-changing experience".
"I never thought during the whole week I was a sub-human being," she said. "It was a wonderful experience. I will be back."
Quin Bromfield, a nursing student, decided to apply for the Recovery Camp to expand his learning.
He said it had been an "unreal" experience to connect with people who have lived experiences of mental health in a non-clinical setting.
"It's been inspirational," Mr Bromfield said. "This experience has taken labels off. During the week, we have looked at the person themselves. Their mental health disorder or experiences do not define them."
Mr Bromfield said he is undecided which path of nursing he will go down, but the lessons he learnt last week will hold him in good stead in any specialty.
Lorna Moxham, a co-founder of Recovery Camp and a mental health nursing professor, said the week had been excellent.
"We had new consumers and consumers that have been here before," she said. "We have CSU students that have learnt a lot. The whole week has been sensational."
Dr Moxham said mental health issues could affect anyone and anytime, demonstrated by the cross-section of people at the camp.
She said it was incredible to see the participants take on both the mental and physical challenges while bonding.
"We would love to come back to Wagga," Dr Moxham said.
- If reading this article has affected you, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line on 1800 737 732.
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