Mental health experience leads to Supreme Award

19 December 2016
Image of Attitude Supreme Award winner Debra Lampshire
Attitude Supreme Award winner Debra Lampshire

Supreme Award winner at the annual Attitude Awards this year was mental health awareness advocate and University of Auckland professional teaching fellow, Debra Lampshire.

Debra has her own lived experience of mental illness and spent several years in institutions before being discharged into the community, where she began to take charge of her own recovery and her journey to living the life she chooses for herself truly started.

Attitude is a trust that promotes and supports disability awareness and creating change in the way that people think about disability.

Debra not only won the ‘Making a Difference’ award at the annual awards evening earlier this month, but was also presented with the Supreme Award for her huge contribution to mental health awareness.

Debra was delighted to receive the award and says it is important recognition and acknowledgement of people with mental health issues in the disability sector.

“This award was a first for someone in the mental health sector, so that’s a huge coup for mental health,” she says.

Debra holds two positions, working in the University of Auckland’s School of Nursing as a professional teaching fellow, and for the Auckland District Health Board as a project manager leading the development of psychological strategies for the enduring mental health project – the first non-clinician to do this.

She has become an internationally recognised academic who presents at conferences around New Zealand and the world.

Her academic work involves experiential teaching - adding a humanistic component to the science.

From six years old Debra was hearing voices. At just 17 years old she was committed to a psychiatric hospital. A chance meeting with an empathetic listener helped her on the path to her recovery 20 years ago and now she works with people experiencing voice-hearing and mental distress to shape their own recovery.

“The neurology and science of mental illness is well researched, but I teach about the importance of being treated as a valuable human being,” says Debra.

She was acknowledged by Attitude for transforming her experiences of voice-hearing, the lived experience of recovery, and the shared experiences of the consumers she has worked with, into a wealth of knowledge that is collaborative, interactive and empowering.

Attitude recognised Debra as a prominent leader and mentor to others within the mental health service-user movement in New Zealand and as a well-known trainer, educator and advocate within national and international mental health services.

Last year, Debra worked with Attitude on a programme for Mental Health Awareness Week covering issues of mental health called ‘Surviving Schizophrenia’.

“I’m a voice-hearer since a child and the programme was about that and how I managed to work with the voices to live the life that I choose,” she says.

Debra prefers to look forward, rather than back on her time in institutions, but says she got to the stage in her life when she didn’t want to take medication or do any more counselling.

“I came to realise that nothing would change unless I did the work myself and waiting for a cure was just sustaining the life that I had,” she says. “I needed to be active in my recovery, so I started working actively on ways to help myself.

“I realised that for things to change I needed to make progress by making small changes and a step by step approach - I began to experience some successes for once.

“I didn’t need someone to try and cure or fix me, but to ask what happened to me and how they could help,” she says.

Debra believes that these kinds of conversations are important for anyone who experiences mental distress.

She says it’s important to show a genuine interest with no judgement and not tell people what they should do but help them find their own solutions. People need to develop the confidence to work it out for themselves.

For the past seven years, Debra has worked three days a week at the Auckland District Health Board, running Hearing Voices groups and teaching psychological approaches as well as seeing people one on one.

“I run an interactive course on psychological interventions that recognise the value of talking to people, exploring the voices and the role they play in people’s lives.

“I believe voice-hearing is a manifestation of extreme anxiety and a response to stress and distress,” she says. “Voice hearers are people who have high levels of anxiety and extreme self- loathing.”

Debra is part of a team which teaches about mental health to second-year nursing students - teaching from the perspective of a recipient of mental health services and how someone might respond and react to them.

“Students need to think about how they are going to cope when exposed to hearing very difficult and often tragic stories of service users’ lives,” she says. “We teach students that service users are not a sub species of human beings and just like everyone else, they have the capacity to heal themselves.

“As nurses they can be there to assist with that, working with people so they can get on with their lives in the community and not become dependent,” she says.

“I endeavour to teach students that they are seeing people in their most vulnerable state, and to focus on developing a relationship, that is effective and compassionate,” says Debra.

For media enquiries email Suzi Phillips, Media Advisor, Medical and Health Sciences.