SAVING HEIDI: 'I hope this will make it easier for others'
AT THE start of this year, Heidi Boundy took herself to the emergency room of Warwick Hospital and said she had a headache.
She was given some painkillers and advised to rest.
What Ms Boundy couldn't tell the doctors was that she was having serious, ongoing thoughts about taking her own life.
Like many who struggle with mental illness, Ms Boundy didn't have a voice in the moment she needed it most.
But now, for the first time, Ms Boundy has decided to speak publicly about her battle with mental illness in the hope it will help others do the same.
Ten months on from her lowest point, Ms Boundy is celebrating Mental Health Week and looking at how far she has come.
"If I tell my story, I hope people will be aware that sometimes you don't always know who is struggling on the inside," she said.
For most of her adulthood, Ms Boundy has battled a personality disorder and chronic suicidal tendencies, thinking what she was struggling with was "just her".
She was able to function on a day-to-day basis, and to others she may have seemed fine.
But in her head, Ms Boundy felt "trapped" in a constant state of fear.
"It was very, very scary. I am not a danger to others but I am so incredibly dangerous to myself."
Raising three children on the autism spectrum on her own, Ms Boundy came to understand her own issues when seeking help for her sons.
Since being diagnosed with an unstable emotional personality disorder and chronic suicidal ideation, she has learned to manage her conditions.
Learning to speak up would not have been possible but for the friends she has found in the Demented Artists Group in Warwick.
"They have very truly saved my life," Ms Boundy said.
When she joined the DAGs on the advice of a mental health counsellor, Ms Boundy was terrified.
She remembers watching her hands tremble.
"The first couple of weeks that I went I had no idea how to talk to them and knowing they knew I had a mental illness was very confronting," she said.
DAGs was formed in 2013 when government funding for a community mental health support program ceased.
Founding member and current DAGs president Corina Graham said the informal group provided a space for people with a diversity of mental health conditions to connect and "be themselves".
"It's a place where you are with your peers when it comes to mental health ... people who understand, and not someone who is paid to look after you," Mrs Graham said.
"You're human again. You're not this mental health patient. You're not a number."
Warwick psychologist Mark Cary said peer support groups were not a substitute for getting professional help, but they could play a crucial role in holistic mental health care.
For Ms Boundy, the experience has been life changing.
"There are formal supports out there but accessing those when you're in a rough patch can be very, very difficult," she said.
"There were times where I could not even go to the doctor because I couldn't speak and I didn't know what to say."
Over the past three years of attending weekly informal DAGs meetups at the Warwick Art Gallery, Ms Boundy has started to talk about her mental health more openly with her peers and has recently taken on an executive role as secretary of the Warwick based not-for-profit.
"It is such a major achievement for me. I have gone on to do things I really did not think I could do," she said.
"Before this I struggled to even answer the phone and talk to people."
She hopes that making the decision to go beyond her "safe space" and speak publicly about mental illness will help smooth the path for others.
"So often it is just not seen, you can walk past someone in the street and not even know what they are living through."
Her story comes at a time when the need for mental health support is more pressing than ever.
Preliminary data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows the national suicide rate increased over 12 months from 11.8 deaths per 100,000 in 2016 to 12.7 deaths per 100,000 in 2017.
The new figures keep Australia above the World Health Organisation's global average suicide death rate of 10.5 deaths per 100,000.
Mr Cary said having open conversations about mental illness was "unreservedly important".
"The more we can share the experiences we are having without stigma the more people will be able to recover from these conditions and get the appropriate help," he said.
Celebrating Queensland Mental Health Week, Ms Boundy said people's stories of mental health needed to be seen.
"I don't know what can be done, but I know that all these things like Mental Health Week start to make a difference," she said.
"I am so glad I have been able to do this."
If you or anyone you know has been affected by this story, you can get immediate help 24/7 - phone Lifeline on 131114 or beyondblue on 1300224636.