Healesville Rotary wants the community to know more about Schizophrenia

Guest speaker Sandy Jeffs. Picture: DONGYUN KWON

By Dongyun Kwon

The Rotary Club of Healesville has invited a special guest for its Thursday night meeting on 30 May.

Sandy Jeffs, a community educator, will speak about her journey of dealing with schizophrenia.

Healesville Rotary Club program director Terry Hill said the club has tried to invite guest speakers regularly to its Thursday night meeting regarding topics that the community needs to know about.

“In this case with the schizophrenia issue of the Bondi Junction Massacre, we felt that it was a good time to have something about community mental health,” he said.

“That’s a huge topic. I know as a teacher that we are getting many more mental health issues in schools nowadays than we’ve had ever before.”

Ms Jeffs was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1976, a time when recovery was seen as unlikely.

The guest speaker said it’s a privilege to educate the audience about schizophrenia.

“In the wake of the PR disaster, that was Joel Cauchi in Bondi Junction, a lot of misconceptions, misreporting and stigma have been floating around the community about schizophrenia,” she said.

“So, it’s nice to have a chance to set the record straight and just give people a sense that I live with schizophrenia, but I’m not a monster.”

Ms Jeffs was among the first to start speaking publicly about living with a mental illness, and much of her writing has been about her struggle to live a full life despite this, including eight volumes of poetry.

“This is normally diagnosed late teens or early 20s. I was diagnosed at 23,” Ms Jeffs said.

“I’d say it’s really important because when you’re diagnosed with a serious mental illness like that, it’s very easy to lose all your hope, purpose and meaning, and when you lose those, you have no reason to get out of bed and you become very trapped in the psychiatric system.

“So, I’ll talk about that and what’s helped me to get to the place that I am at now which is a really nice place. [I’ll also talk about] what brought me to this place, how I got here, how it was about restoring my hope, purpose and meaning and how important it is to have a team.”

Being creative is one of the ways that she has been dealing with her illness along with taking medications.

“Dealing with schizophrenia is about having other things in your life that give you a reason to get out of bed,” Ms Jeffs said.

“For me, it’s being a poet and a writer. It’s also about having my team. I’m playing sports now and I’m a goalkeeper at hockey.

“It has been a whole raft of different ways of treating it but it’s more than just taking drugs and just being caught in that chapter in the psych system. It’s about trying to get out of the psych system and heal yourself with other positive means.”

For all her dedication, she has been honoured in the Victorian Honour Roll of Women, Her Place Women’s Museum, and with an OAM in 2020.

The event is open to not only rotarians but also to the whole community.

The meeting will start at 6pm with dinner at Sanctuary House Resort Motel in Badger Creek followed by Sandy’s speech commencing at 7pm.

Attendance of the dinner is optional which will cost $25.

It is free of charge for people who want to attend only the speech.

The booking can be made via contacting Chrissy Harsant on 0408 579 352.

It is encouraged to make a booking by Tuesday 28 May due to the catering reason.