“I literally had the time of my life. It is truly life changing.” These are the words of Kim, 59, who had earlier referred to herself as a “broken woman; suffering from chronic depression and PTSD.”
In May of 2017, Kim, along with 70 other people, attended Recovery Camp (www.recoverycamp.com.au). Recovery Camp is an award-winning program, where people with lived experience of mental illness share a week away with university health students at a sport and recreation camp. Throughout the week, attendees participate in an outdoor, activities-based recovery-oriented program. For health students (such as nursing, exercise science, dietetics, and psychology students), the week involves learning of mental health, mental illness, and recovery first-hand from those with experience; something they don’t tend to find in a textbook. For those with lived experience, the week away is about promoting personal wellbeing, strengths, hope, and empowerment; all while contributing to the education of future health professionals.
Though, at first, Kim was nervous about the experience, it was this week away that supported her through a challenging time:
“I was isolating myself at home due to my mental illness. I was in a very dark place and couldn’t see my way out. Whilst at camp I met some amazing people from all walks of life. I found the students and other professionals were very engaging. I had a sense of belonging and hope.”
Recovery Camps have been running since 2013, and have involved over 170 health students, and 170 people with lived experience of mental illness. The goal of each Recovery Camp is straightforward: that through their experience at camp, people realise personal strengths and their contribution to the mental health recovery of others. Each camp is designed to challenge students’ views on what it means to have mental illness – and have them learn and appreciate other’s personal journeys. The camps are designed to build camaraderie, to encourage and support people to talk to and learn from one another.
Activities at camp include a flying fox, a giant swing, rock climbing, archery, bush dancing, art and craft, team initiatives, and more.
“There is joking, laughter, team spirit… People challenging themselves to do activities that they would never even attempt to do outside of camp. People bursting with excitement and tears of joy because they faced their fears,” Kim said.
“I would say to everyone: if I can do it, so can you.”