Sarah-Jane was nervous arriving at the bus, most the faces were unfamiliar. The Charles Sturt University nursing student didn’t know who was who, let alone realise she was the 500th student to be in the same position.
That is the point of Recovery Camp – it’s a five-day adventure that brings together nursing students and people with lived experience of mental illness, and the labels are left at the door.
“This was also the first point of realisation that I was attending camp with people living with a mental illness and that mental health does not show itself through their clothes, skin-colour, attitude, hair-colour,” Sarah said.
“It affects all people of all walks of life equally.” Recovery Camp is a success story. The company was born at the University of Wollongong in 2017 and, as of this week’s camp, it has played host to more than 500 students from eight universities from across the country.
Managing director Maree Kerr said Recovery Camp was designed to provide students and consumers with a therapeutic recreation experience that highlighted the relationship between mental and physical health and its impact on wellbeing.
“At camp, the activities are designed to provide individuals and teams with the opportunity to challenge themselves; develop therapeutic relationships; appreciate each other’s personal strengths and journeys; focus on solutions; and, enjoy an opportunity to collaboratively interact with one another in activities that are fun and engaging,” Ms Kerr said.
Recovery Camp works with universities to help nursing students meet their mandatory 800 hours of clinical placement. The participating universities include UTS, Charles Sturt University, RMIT, University of New England, Sunshine Coast University, Federation University, Central Queensland University along with some students from overseas.
“All attendees engage in challenge-by-choice activities, ranging from giant swings and rock climbing through to more reflective activities like yoga and damper making,” Ms Kerr said.
“It is so important that we give our nursing students a way to experience their mental health placement that breaks down the stigma so often attached to people with a lived experience of a mental illness.”
October was Mental Health Month, and, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), 45 per cent of Australians will have a common mental disorder in their lifetime. The 2017 AIHW Mental Health Report reported $8.5 billion was spent on mental health-related services in 2014-15, 2.3 million people used Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services in 2015-16, and, in the same year, four million people received mental health-related prescriptions.
The Recovery Camp program was created by three UOW academics, and their research has provided evidence to support the program and to underline its positive impact on nursing students and people with mental illness.
“Recovery Camp is recognised by the Australian Nursing and Midwives Accreditation Council (ANMAC), and it’s the only clinical placement in Australia that has been accredited by them,” Ms Kerr said.
“This clearly demonstrates the value, experience and education of the program to nursing students and a wonderful alternative to consumers attending the program.”
Sarah said she felt slightly guilty and embarrassed that she assumed there would be some type of “barrier” or easy way to separate “us” from “them”, but the experience had helped address the stigma she had attached to people with mental illness.
“Coming to camp has made me realise that you cannot define a person just by their illness, mental health consumers are like everyone else through their courage, strength and determination,” she said.
Recovery Camp is a resident company of iAccelerate at UOW, is a registered NDIS provider, and has a number of sponsored attendance options for those not with the NDIS.