Joy and hope for women living with mental illness
WHAT do supporting women's mental health issues and going on a vacation have in common?
An extraordinary northside not-for-profit called Holidays for Health, which is paving a pathway of opportunity and hope for women of all ages living with mental illness and low incomes.
The Sandgate-based initiative, short-listed for this year's Open Minds Queensland Mental Health Week Achievement Awards, is run by a small group of women working in the mental health sector.
The retreat gives up to 24 women at a time a chance to have a holiday by the sea with like-minded people in a supported environment.
While participants' mental health issues are certainly not left at the holiday villa door, the focus is on connectedness and lessening the chronic isolation most face in their day to day lives.
Co-founder and mental health nurse Helen Webster said the research was "very clear".
"Connectedness is very powerful for mental health and wellbeing so here we bring together … women who have been disconnected and socially isolated a lot by their mental illness but a lot by being poor, and we create this opportunity for social connection".
"People need greater access to meaningful activities, healthy food options and alternatives to medication … we recognise that people are often victims of trauma and that restrictive treatment environments can add to that trauma.
"Per person, the retreat is about 10 per cent of the cost of a one-night stay in an inpatient unit with effects that are long lasting, tangible and measurable and that's got to be a good thing."
Ms Webster said many women reported the retreat helped prevent hospitalisations as they became involved in "happy, healthy activities which kept them busy and changed the way they were looking at their lives".
"The women who come on camp reflect at the beginning and the end of the retreats and the observations they make about themselves and others are so inspiring. We see people acknowledge their strengths and capacities rather than being constrained by a diagnostic label."
For co-founder and facilitator Fritz Coates, watching the women of all ages relax a little and step into an environment that understands them is one of the ultimate rewards.
"We see them arrive, when they've been so close to not even getting there because it is such an overwhelming thing for them, and they are set at ease very quickly so that anxiety can take a back seat," Ms Coates said.
Offering a range of activities including massage, laughing yoga, beach walks, swimming, art workshops and mindfulness the retreats operate over three days at Bribie Island.
Funded through a mix of contributions from women attending the courses, donations and grants, Holidays for Health aims to support participants' wellbeing, connections to others, self-care, self-worth and offer a new experience.
"Without the retreat I wouldn't be here and I wouldn't be going home feeling like the strong woman I am now," one participant said.
"I was so scared of you all and it turned out to be quite an idyllic experience," wrote another.
For 71-year-old Bonny Eggelsden it was something she had never done before.
"It was wonderful," she said. "Just wonderful."
Making beautiful lanterns and sharing time with other "like-minded" people had a significant impact on the wellbeing of the Redcliffe resident who hopes to go again in the future.
Holidays for Health was founded by Dr Christine Palmer, Helen Webster, Fritz Coates and Madonna Cuskelly who are now joined by Rose Kelly and Lynda Bundock in running the not-for-profit.
Judges of the 2019 Mental Health Week Achievement Awards acknowledged Holidays for Health for addressing the effects of poverty and the link with mental health and "for its "compassion, innovation and leadership … and caring for people in need".
Email: email@example.com for information or on Facebook at Holidays for Health.