News • 28 Nov 2019

Award winning Open Minds employee gives hope to clients with mental illness

Award winning Open Minds employee gives hope to clients with mental illness

Stephen has overcome numerous obstacles, including his own lived experience of mental illness and disability, unemployment, and cancer. Stephen went on to win a Mental Health Award and now uses his experiences to work as a Support Worker at Open Minds, inspiring hope in our clients.

Stephen has experienced mental illness since his late teens, and whilst he had completed an apprenticeship in graphics, his struggles often left him unemployed.

His situation worsened when he was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2005, and had major surgery to remove it, leaving Stephen unable to walk for a whole month.

Stephen said: “I was on the disability pension and tried really hard to get work but kept getting pushed back. It was demotivating.”

Stephen recovered from the cancer and began to focus on doing something he enjoyed: cycling. 

Through his connections at A Place to Belong, he ended up signing up to do undertake a challenge bigger than he’d ever imagined he’d be able to do: a cycle ride from Brisbane to Cairns.

The cycle ride was to raise awareness for mental health. 

Stephen signed up without knowing what to expect, and quickly became a spokesperson, talking to media about his lived experiences and inspiring others with his hard work and dedication.

As well as drawing lots of TV attention, the team had former Australian politician, Anna Bligh, ride alongside them before they officially set off from Pelican Park in Redcliffe.

It wasn’t an easy bike ride, the team weren’t allowed to take the main highway and taking backroads added on a significant distance to an already long journey.

Stephen and his team of seven, achieved their goal and made it to Cairns in 10 days, all in the same year that he’d undergone surgery for stomach cancer.

A generous donor had paid for flights back to Brisbane, meaning they thankfully didn’t have to do it all again.

Upon his return, Stephen was overwhelmed by the response to what he had achieved.

An anonymous person nominated him for a Queensland Mental Health Week Achievement Award, hosted by Open Minds, and Stephen was shocked and grateful to scoop the award win in 2005.

Stephen won a Queensland Mental Health Week Achievement Award in 2005

Not only did Stephen achieve what he thought wasn’t achievable, but these experiences boosted his confidence and enabled him to get back into employment.

He quickly found work gardening, as he found this to be a low stress job, and then went on to work in the disability and mental health sector.

He also met his now wife, and they have a 12 year old son together. 

Stephen said: “When I was invited to an interview many years later at Open Minds, organisers of the Awards, I took my Award trophy along with me and my interviewers were really quite stunned that I had received this award all those years ago!”

Stephen was successful in his interview and secured a position as a Support Worker in 2019 based in Redcliffe, now discussing his experiences with clients and inspiring hope in them.

Stephen said: “When clients hear about my story, it makes them stop and think about what their strengths are.

“It makes them realise that their goals are not unachievable. Just because they live with mental illness or disability, this doesn’t mean they can’t achieve amazing things in their life.”

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