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Help create a merry and bright future for our children this Christmas

Like many Australian children, Em has had a struggle with mental illness. Please read her story below and see how Breakthrough’s incredible behavioural therapy program changed her life.

Em's Story

My name is Em.

I am 19 years old, and I love reading, going to the gym and spending time with my family and friends. When I write that, I sound like any other 19-year-old and if you saw me walking down the street, you probably wouldn’t think anything, but there are many times when I feel completely the opposite. 

When I was 16, I was diagnosed with a mental illness called borderline personality disorder.  To me, this caused me to have trouble regulating my emotions and knowing what emotions mine are really, which then causes me trouble in knowing what I should think or feel and how that may then impact others.  

I know that must sound strange, but for me it makes my day seem darker.  

It could be a lovely sunny day, without a cloud in the sky and I see someone who may be upset or unable to help themselves, I then overanalyse or overthink this situation, because I want to help, but I can’t, so instead I take on their burdens, that sunny day then feels dark and heavy to me. 

But the most difficult thing is that I never know what I am waking up to.

I could be happy and feeling great for three or four days, and then I wake up the next morning, dark, low in mood, and I’ll just think, “No. What is this? This is not okay,” and then I’m in a struggle for two weeks.  

Fortunately, soon after my diagnosis, I started an individual therapy program called Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) – a form of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy or talking therapy that helps with self-acceptance, building skills to regulate your emotions and improving relationships with others.  

I was then referred to the group DBT program, supported by Breakthrough, and that’s when I began to see improvements. I still went to individual therapy which helped, but that became more of a debrief of the group program.  

I was nervous, to begin with, I didn’t know anyone or what to expect. Together, we focussed on interpersonal effectiveness, emotional regulation, distress tolerance and mindfulness – all very important things to learn for everyone, and certainly for people with similar lived experiences as mine.  

But the group program became especially important because we all realised that we're not alone, which is an amazing feeling.

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When you get a diagnosis like I did, you think, “There’s nobody like me,” because when we were diagnosed, we were mid-teens, and no one at school talked about it. No one at school knew what it was, and you didn’t want to tell your friends, because you didn’t want them to look at you differently. 

So, we felt isolated, like no one could ever understand what we were going through. Being in a group setting like that: learning together and practicing with each other, practicing how to talk, practicing the skills, doing homework every week, and coming back and saying, “I used this skill to do this,” and being acknowledged for it from people who understood. It was good to know that we had each other. 

Another benefit of the group program is that my mum joined with me through the whole program, 24 weeks, that’s an enormous commitment to help me. I realised that as much as I was learning about myself and what was really going on with me, my mum was learning just as much. Now, if I’m having a challenge, she can see it if I’m not coping, and she knows exactly what to say or when to walk away and give me space, which she didn’t before. 

And when people can’t comprehend what I am going through, she’s there to say, “I’ve done the program. I understand it. This is how she feels and how she processes things”. Having that support is crucial. 

The strategies that I learned through the group program are skills that I now use every day and will use for the rest of my life. I still have challenging times, but I feel more confident that I know what to do when I feel overwhelmed or when I am not coping. I will always have these learnings that I can refer to. 

In all honesty, the program saved my life.

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In all honesty, the program saved my life, because beforehand I didn’t know how to function. My brain just didn’t understand the normal way to process thoughts and feelings – it’s genetically different. 

Now, with the skills that I have learned and the improvements I have made in my life, I am at a point where I recently started a new job at Little Heroes Foundation. I’m very passionate about helping other people, especially children and so I’m always proud to tell people where I work. To me, the minds of our youth are so important, that they need to be protected. 

My proudest achievement, I have been accepted to study Criminology at Flinders University. If you had told me this was possible three years ago, I never would have believed you, as I didn’t see any hope for my future. But that’s the power these programs can have. 

I now have things to look forward to, so I think life is worth living. It’s just so different from what I used to believe. My outlook on life has changed so much and it’s thanks to the program 

We need your help to save Australian children

If we work together we have the ability to change the life of many other children, like Em. Together let’s make a change in this world, and break the mental illness that has got a hold on our young children.

Your donation will fund evidence-based research to better understand what causes mental illness, how to reduce its impact, and ultimately prevent mental illness from happening in the first place for our children. Thank you for your support.

All donations of $2 or more are tax deductible. 

Frequently asked questions

Your donation will fund evidence-based research to better understand what causes mental illness within our children, how to reduce its impact, and ultimately prevent mental illness. Thank you for your support.

All donations of $2 or more are tax deductible. 

Individuals like yourself contribute in creating a meaningful positive impact on lives who suffer from mental illness. Our dedicated supporters can donate either weekly, monthly or annually. This can be automatically processed through credit card transactions or direct debit, This ensures with regular support we can create a life free from mental illness.

See our latest impact report and how your generous donations have helped make advances in mental health research.