The healing effect of helping others

Woman smiling standing in hospital corridor
Fremantle Hospital Consumer Advisory Group Member Elaine Ashurst
October 9, 2017

The first time Elaine Ashurst entered the inpatient ward at Fremantle Hospital’s Mental Health Service, she “wanted to turn and run”.

She was experiencing debilitating anxiety and questioning whether life was worth living.

“I wasn’t enjoying life like I did,” Elaine said.

“I couldn’t sleep, I was worrying about worrying. I didn’t want to see my own daughter. I was prescribed medication to help me sleep, but it didn’t help. I was agitated and anxious about driving because of the medication, so I didn’t make it to work. I was feeling worse every day but kept putting on an act and fighting it.”

A visit to a psychologist did little to calm her anxiety, and things came to a head after another sleepless night.

“I wrote my thoughts and feelings down, and concluded my family would be better off without me. I never planned a method of suicide, I just felt compelled to leave.”

As she was walking out the door, a friend arrived and convinced her to sit while he called Fremantle Hospital.

“I didn’t think I would be admitted – I was totally unaware of how ill I was,” she said.

She was admitted as an inpatient on Ward 5.1 for the next few weeks.

“I had a multidisciplinary team looking after me, and I was invited to meet with them regularly. Although it was quite overwhelming to discuss my mental health in front of the whole group, I knew they had my best interests at heart.”

After hospital, it took a while to develop the confidence to stand on her own two feet.

“I was worried I would no longer have a connection with the hospital. That’s when my OT mentioned voluntary work within the Mental Health Service. I wasn’t sure I was going to be much help but went ahead and joined the Consumer Advisory Group.”

Two years on, Elaine is helping others through their own journeys to recovery.

“The professional help I received in hospital was invaluable, but I would have really benefited from talking to someone with a lived experience. That’s why I’m doing this.”

Elaine coordinates CAG ward rounds, and initiated weekly yoga for consumers.

“I come in to talk to consumers, get their feedback and have a chat. When I arrive with my clipboard, people think I’m just going to ask a few questions and walk away. Their attitude changes completely when I tell them I spent three weeks on ward 5.1.”

Elaine said being a member of the CAG is a positive way to give back.

“Being at the hospital keeps me grounded. I am passionate about removing the stigma of mental health issues and working to enhance the services available.

“My recovery journey is continuing and I am thankful to Fremantle Hospital for starting me on it, to my outpatient OT for ensuring I stayed on track and my family for giving me the reason to begin. If my story helps one person, it’s worth telling.”

Fremantle Hospital Mental Health Service Lead Lynn Warren said it was important for anyone struggling with unhelpful thoughts or emotions to reach out for help.

“Seeking help is the first step to recovery, as Elaine’s story shows,” Lynn said.

“We all feel anxious or sad sometimes, but it’s important to get professional support if those feelings are interfering with your everyday life.

“The best place to start is by seeing your GP who can provide information and advice on the many support services and treatments available.”