FOUR years after an unspeakable tragedy befell her family, Amy Devrell has found her voice and is on a mission to help others.
The 20-year-old Tamworth woman is hoping her story will inspire local youths grappling with mental illness to seek assistance.
In 2011, Ms Devrell endured the agony of discovering the body of her mother, Maria “Lou” Devrell, in their Kingswood home.
Accountant Peter Joseph Kelly, tasked with handling the family’s finances after a $5 million lotto win, was later convicted of murder and sentenced to 18 years’ jail.
The “family trauma”, as Ms Devrell describes it, was the catalyst for a severe deepening of her existing depression and a trigger for anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders.
“I struggled having friends, involving myself in things, I had trouble concentrating at school, I sort of turned to going out drinking and stuff, which was never what I wanted to do with my life,” she said.
“After Mum passed, when things got worse, it took
a lot of people telling me, ‘Hey, you don’t need to deal with this on your own, it’s OK not to have to be strong and it’s OK to go and see someone and ask for their help’.”
That help came initially from experts at Tamworth’s headspace centre, which then led to involvement in Batyr’s successful Being Herd program.
Being Herd teaches people aged between 18 and 30 to speak candidly and coherently about their experiences with mental health issues to other young people.
In March, Ms Devrell mustered the courage and confidence to take part in a two-day workshop where she told her extraordinary story.
“I was so nervous,” she said.
“I walked into that room and saw the other girls there and thought, ‘Oh my god, what if their journey has been harder than mine, what if my story doesn’t add up, what if people pity me?
“None of that was what I wanted and none of that was what I got.
“It was really great to finally be able to put everything on paper and say it out loud, because every other time it would be bits and pieces and here and there, and it just never made sense.”
Batyr Tamworth co-ordinator Emily Herbert said the next workshop would be held next Saturday and Sunday, equipping attendees with the skills to help other people with mental illness.
“Every story is so different and obviously Amy’s journey has been incredibly unique in many ways, but it’s the overall message that is very similar in a lot of stories,” she said.
“It’s the importance of seeking help that we really want to get out into the public sphere and start a conversation around.”
Ms Devrell, who in the coming weeks will share her journey with local school students, plans to study social work at university.
“The line of work I want to get into is social work and being able to help younger people, so this is a starting point,” she said.
“I definitely think (my experiences) will make it easier to connect to people and be able to say to them, ‘I’ve been here before and you can achieve anything’.
“I’m so excited about the future. It’s something that happens every day, choosing to be happy, and I want to help other people choose to be happy, too.”
For more information about the Being Herd program, contact Ms Herbert on firstname.lastname@example.org
For help or information on mental illness, call Lifeline on 131 114 or visit www.beyondblue.org.au