When the women’s empowerment and activity group, Wondering Women, identified that their members were experiencing increased levels of stress and isolation over the last few years, they turned to Mental Health First Aid® (MHFA™) Australia for training and support. What has resulted is Cloud 9, a community mental health program led by women for women in the Sutherland area. While the program was developed to address the impact felt during COVID-19, it now gives members the opportunity to connect and talk about some of ongoing issues they face.
From little moments, big movements grow. The same is true of Wondering Women. The genesis of the activity-based group and its focus on personal empowerment, wellness, and connection began as founders Lisa Tilsed and Adriarn Reynolds walked through the Royal National Park in Sydney’s south. During the walk, Adriarn became increasingly overwhelmed at the thought of snakes and other hazards. Lisa acted as her guide, calming her friend, encouraging her focus on the beauty of the park.
From this simple act of empowering connection, Wondering Women was born.
Since its inception in 2016, Wondering Women has become a community with a program of physical activities such as hiking and swimming and personal development workshops. Focussed on uncovering personal resilience through connection, Wondering Women also raise funds to support natural disaster recovery and other charities relating to domestic violence and mental health.
Supporting mental health within the community
During the pandemic and the NSW bushfires, Wondering Women identified that their members were struggling. Changes to living arrangements, loss of employment, and managing family life, including home-schooling were taking their toll.
As the needs of the members changed, the focus became finding effective, low barrier ways to support their community in practical terms.
Proactive in their approach, Wondering Women turned to Mental Health First Aid Australia. The aim was to provide members with the knowledge and practical skills needed to recognise and respond to the early signs of a developing or worsening mental health problem in those around them. Since investing in Mental Health First Aid training in early 2022, almost 50 members of Wondering Women have now completed the training and are skilled as Mental Health First Aiders™. These trained individuals are well-versed in offering both direct assistance and referring community members to appropriate mental health supports. Wondering Women have also established a strong network of GPs and other mental health services to help normalise the message that mental health matters.
“Having some of the Wondering Women community accredited as Mental Health First Aiders ensures our members have someone they can approach and talk to. Our Mental Health First Aiders are able to identify early signs and provide support and do everything possible to make sure our members are safe and assist them in seeking the professional help they require”
Lisa Tilsed – Wondering Women co-founder
Expanding the success of Cloud 9
Based on the success of the initial program, Wondering Women aim to deliver monthly Mental Health First Aid courses within the Sutherland area. This includes meeting or exceeding their target of training 100 members.
Some of the trained Mental Health First Aiders within Cloud 9 meet every six weeks to connect and debrief. The Cloud 9 group share a strong bond that extends beyond the training. Mental Health First Aid Instructor, Joyce Campbell attends these group sessions to help strengthen their confidence and capability as Mental Health First Aiders in the community.
Ensuring women from all backgrounds have access to the training is an important part of the Cloud 9 program. To reduce financial barriers, Wondering Woman offer course materials at a subsided rate and have implemented a buddy-system whereby people who are uncertain or at risk, can attend the training with a friend.
Wellness is a whole community focus
As a result of Cloud 9 and their commitment to both charitable work and the promotion of health and well-being, Wondering Women have been recognised as the winner for the Business Awards in the category of Excellence in Community Services in 2022.
Looking to the future, Wondering Women will be expanding Cloud 9 to include Youth Mental Health First Aid Training to equip parents, grandparents and carers with the skills to support the young people in their lives. The group hopes that this will promote a greater understanding of the mental health issues affecting young people and help unite and build connectedness between generations in the Sutherland community. To find out more about Wondering Women, you can visit their Facebook Group here.
Follow the link below to understand how Mental Health First Aid can be utilised for your community endeavours.