Beautiful Minds

05 August 2015

Private Members’ Statement


Mr ANOULACK CHANTHIVONG (Macquarie Fields) [6.33 p.m.]: John Nash won the 1994 Nobel Prize in economics for his work on game theory, differential geometry and partial differential equations. He was a mathematical genius, but he also suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, a mental illness that took control of his life and became part of his daily struggles. His life story was portrayed in the film A Beautiful Mind, which showed that mental illness is indiscriminate, affecting Nobel Prize winners as well many others in our community.

I want to speak about Beautiful Minds, a local organisation that helps people with mental illness and provides hope for a better life. Sandra McDonald, who runs Beautiful Minds, has long championed the need to address mental health issues in our community. She is a dedicated volunteer who sacrifices her time without complaint to help others. She was awarded Campbelltown's Citizen of the Year in 2014, and is a worthy recipient of one of our highest civic honours. In many ways, she brings further prestige to the award and demonstrates how much our community values the work she and her team of volunteers have done at Beautiful Minds for people in our community who have to live with mental health issues.

Mental health problems are becoming more prominent in our society, and we need to develop strategies and facilities to help those and their families who live with mental health issues. One in five Australians will experience mental illness during their lifetime, and tens of thousands in my local community will also suffer from this terrible illness. As Mayor of Campbelltown, I hosted a charity night that raised more than $20,000 to help Beautiful Minds to build better facilities at Waratah House and Harmony House. Our community came together that evening to show its support—it was the personal stories that touched everyone that night.

Susan shared her story of feeling isolated, lacking self-esteem and experiencing volatile emotional difficulties and their impact; she found it difficult to connect with others and to be productive at work. Glenn, a softly spoken man, said he was on the verge of suicide and had been on medication for years. These were personal stories with powerful messages on how mental illness affects honest and hardworking people. While their life stories contained a journey of struggle, they also inspired a story of hope and demonstrated the importance of local organisations like Beautiful Minds, which helped both Susan and Glenn, and many others in our community, to rebuild their lives.

Beautiful Minds is a volunteer group whose mission is to raise funds to create a society in which people with mental illness are valued and assisted to live fulfilling lives. The dream of Beautiful Minds was to open a mental health recovery centre in south-west Sydney. In 2008 that dream was realised when, with the assistance of the Schizophrenia Fellowship NSW, Beautiful Minds opened Harmony House in Bradbury, Campbelltown. It provides intensive support to people suffering mental illness through the day-to-day living program and now boasts being the centre for mental health recovery in Campbelltown. The clubhouse model of Harmony House is recognised worldwide as the most effective model in helping people with mental illness.

Beautiful Minds receives no ongoing government funding: It relies on the generous support of many people in our community and the dedication and time of volunteers. Through fundraising initiatives such as stalls, grants and events such as Waratah Day—where Beautiful Minds managed to sell 4,000 waratahs across Macarthur—the organisation has managed to raise money for mental health awareness. Annual events, such as high tea at Hurlstone Agricultural High School and the recent Mad Hatters Mayhem Dinner Party, which was a wonderful event hosted by Sandra and her team, have been crucial in gathering funds but also in providing awareness on mental health. On some Saturdays Sandra and her team will run their own Market Street stall at Ingleburn selling items to raise money for mental health.

Beautiful Minds has also campaigned on destigmatising mental health, which is fundamental to a better understanding from the wider community. For all of us who know or knew of those living with mental health issues, the most valuable gift we can give is our own time. Take the time to listen to their stories, to understand their struggles and to show them they are not alone. Mental illness is hard enough to deal with, but for those who are fortunate enough not to experience it, let us make it easier for friends and families of others living with mental illness to show them we understand and we do care.

Mr JOHN SIDOTI (Drummoyne—Parliamentary Secretary) [6.38 p.m.]: I commend the member for Macquarie Fields for raising this important issue and for showing his kindness in bringing this important matter to the attention of the House. Mental illness affects all members of our community and all governments can do more. The member for Macquarie Fields is very fortunate to have an organisation like Beautiful Minds in his electorate. Such organisations would be lost without volunteers in all our electorates. I have also attended a Mad Hatter party, which brings all sorts of joy to people in our community. The member for Macquarie Fields eloquently said that the greatest thing we can give to those with mental health issues is our time. I commend the member for Macquarie Fields.