Brooke Lacey spent a decade struggling with mental illness. She emerged from it determined to change the way we treat mental health.
There are a lot of heartbreaking stories about mental illness. There are also stories of hope and recovery. Brooke Lacey has both.
Lacey, 22, who lives in Wellington, had a major episode of mental illness when she was 11 after her father died by suicide. She spent the next decade under the care of specialist mental health services in different parts of the country.
Her experience with our public mental health system was one that is common to too many Kiwis. In Lacey's account, the care she received was mostly inadequate and at times indifferent, and never seemed to get to the core of her psychological problems.
Services were quick to offer medication, she says, but the talk therapies that are also vital to recovery never seemed to be available. When she fell into crisis, Lacey says she was made to feel like she wasn't sick enough to get immediate help even though she was suicidal.
There were hours-long waits in hospital emergency departments. On several occasions, she says, she was taken to police cells when she was distressed because there was nowhere else for her to go.
At 19, Lacey was admitted to a hospital psychiatric ward that was rundown, overcrowded and "absolutely horrible", which she found more traumatic than therapeutic. "They released me with no follow-up plan or anything like that," she says. "And I didn't even hear from them. Nothing was better."
Two years ago, after she moved to Wellington, Lacey finally found a psychologist that she connected with and it changed everything.
"She was the first person in 10 years that actually got to know me," Lacey says, "and wanted to actually work through what happened and solve it. Which made the world of difference."
Today, she says, she is clear of her psychiatric diagnoses and no longer needs to take medication – although she has not left the world of mental health behind. Lacey's experience has made her determined to reform the system so that others won't have to go through what she did.
In 2020, Lacey filed a petition in Parliament calling for better crisis support and suicide prevention. "We commend the petitioner for her advocacy and for her courage in sharing her experiences," Parliament's health committee said in a report noting her concerns, although Lacey knows that it'll take more than a petition to get politicians to take action.
Recently, she's been working as an intern in the parliamentary office of MP Matt Doocey, National's mental health spokesperson, while studying political science and sociology at Victoria University. Lacey says the job is less a reflection of her politics than her curiosity to learn how Wellington works.
Lacey says she is committed to keep campaigning for better mental health services. "I believe it is important to have someone who has lived through the system to stand up and say, 'Enough is enough.'"
HELP US INVESTIGATE
The Herald will continue reporting on the nation's mental health and the way that services help people who experience difficulties. And we need your help.
We want to hear from as many people as possible who have experienced mental health problems, those who care for them, and people who work in the mental health system. The more people we can speak to, the more thorough and accurate our reporting will be. We will not publish your name or identify you as a source unless you want us to.
Please share your experience by contacting the Investigations Editor, Alex Spence, at firstname.lastname@example.org
WHERE TO GET HELP
If it is an emergency and you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
For counselling and support
For children and young people
For help with specific issues
Alcohol and Drug Helpline: Call 0800 787 797
Anxiety Helpline: Call 0800 269 4389 (0800 ANXIETY)
OutLine: Call 0800 688 5463 (0800 OUTLINE) (6pm-9pm)
Safe to talk (sexual harm): Call 0800 044 334 or text 4334
All services are free and available 24/7 unless otherwise specified.
For more information and support, talk to your local doctor, hauora, community mental health team, or counselling service. The Mental Health Foundation has more helplines and service contacts on its website.