After moving to Australia from overseas, Nayonika had grown up in a culture where mental health wasn’t something people discussed. She heard about the Black Dog Institute through Dr Jill Newby in one of her psychology classes at university and joined a research project.

It was one of these online courses, and I gave it a go. I remember thinking, "Oh, there's nothing to lose; I might as well try it out." It was all by accident, and I never actually realized how much it would help me. It was my first experience of acknowledging that maybe I needed support to deal with the stuff that I was going through at the time and that I didn't need to bottle it in anymore.

Listening to someone speak about their own personal connection to Black Dog Institute made a huge difference and really humanized their research. I remember thinking at the time how much it spoke to the whole Institute's culture; everyone I met just seemed so empathetic and approachable and that made such an impact on me.

After hearing Dr Jill Newby speak, I connected with someone else from Black Dog Institute, and they told me about the advisor’s program, and they asked me if I wanted to be involved in a project. It was just a complete chance, an accident of nature sort of thing that happened, but I am so grateful I did.

I have now been connected with Black Dog Institute since 2018, and I have been involved in over 20 projects; I have been a research participant, and now I am a lived and living experience advisor. 

“It's been eye-opening to see so many different approaches to similar conditions and realise that not one treatment option suits everyone.”

While participating in projects, I had so many realisations about my own experience with mental health.  I really learned how to identify what my boundaries and limitations are. Now I feel so much more confident in identifying my own needs and understanding my capacity. So now when something new comes up, I stop and think, “Can I take this on? maybe I'm struggling." Then I can go and get the support that I need or say no to new things.

I have struggled with my mental health since I was a child. When you grow up feeling a certain way all the time, you don’t realise that's not how you are supposed to feel, and that's not how most people generally feel. Especially coming from a culture where mental health was not discussed, it became quite difficult to identify and address it early on. I experienced a lot of childhood abuse that also impacted my mental health, and I had undiagnosed ADHD.

I was your classic golden child, over-performing high school captain, school dux, and sports captain. Everyone was just like, "She'll be fine, have a career, a job, settle down, and travel the world". Then I turned 19, and all of a sudden, I was unable even to finish an assignment that required me to write 20 words." It was a massive fall for me from the person everyone thought I was.

After having a big manic episode at 19 and just completely blacking out my memory for a month, I finally received a diagnosis of depression, anxiety and then finally ADHD by my mid 20’s. Before that, it was so challenging for me as it felt like I didn’t have my life together because I was constantly trying to find stability while all my peers were taking their next steps in life.

I think the biggest life-changing moment for me was just having someone validate my experience and believe me and say, "You're not making this stuff up. You actually do struggle with these things. You don't procrastinate; you’re not lazy."

“I think the biggest life-changing moment for me was just having someone validate my experience and believe me and say, 'You're not making this stuff up. You actually do struggle with these things. You don't procrastinate; you’re not lazy.'”

I remember taking my first Ritalin tablet, and I cried. I suddenly realized I didn’t have to feel that way forever, and I could feel “normal” and do things I wanted to.  I'd spent the past 23 years of my life just surviving. I wasn't even living; I was just surviving on high adrenaline and stress.

Now my journey has been about just figuring out what works for me, giving myself the space to fall apart, and knowing that even if I'm falling apart, or I don't have the energy to take up opportunities, I'm not actually missing out in life, I'm not falling behind necessarily, I'm just doing what works best for me.

After my diagnosis, I went about finding the right therapeutic support for me, changing my lifestyle, my diet, and adjusting my sleeping schedule.  I could see that I was no longer on this never-ending path of burnout. I started to make other helpful changes in my life as well. Sometimes it was just changing what my house looked like, how I organized my wardrobe or my eating habits.  I actively began auditing what I would or would not put in front of myself. I would set reminders, as I forget things very easily. I have become more comfortable with telling people that I forget things, and asking them to please feel free to remind me.

Now as a lived and living experience advisor, it is always interesting hearing people's stories about how they come into contact with Black Dog and the different services and programs and initiatives that people access to support their mental health. Doing lived experience advisory work has made me have so much respect and acknowledgement that it's not everyone’s experience is the same, or even if it is the same it’s so great to be able to share and validate our journeys.

“Everyone's story needs to have room and deserves room to be told, and I think that makes the biggest difference in feeling supported.”

Now, I believe that context setting plays the biggest difference in mental health research and support, and I think there's just so much more appetite for people to speak about their mental health. People are also so much more open to being challenged as well, which I think is really nice and just refreshing. It means that it prevents other women like me, who are from diverse cultural backgrounds, from feeling like they can't have these conversations and leaving them undiagnosed for years.

At the end of the day, the more we keep talking about mental health, the better the world gets. It would be nice to see all children enjoying their lives and having the great childhood they deserve.

If you or anyone you know needs help: