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NEW DAWN: Wollongong mum Tegan Taylor has credited TAFE NSW with helping her launch a career helping others.
A Wollongong mum whose life has been scarred by mental illness and addiction is now offering hope to struggling locals after completing a unique TAFE NSW diploma.
Tegan Taylor, 33, endured a family breakdown as a child, triggering a running battle with mental illness, including depression, anxiety and borderline personality disorder.
At 19, she developed a severe eating disorder and by her late 20s, was self-medicating by abusing alcohol.
It wasn’t until her mental health started impacting her marriage in 2017 that Ms Taylor sought help, entering into counselling for her eating disorder and alcohol addiction.
The counselling was the circuit breaker she needed. After a year of sobriety, and with her family reunited, Ms Taylor enrolled in a Diploma of Mental Health at TAFE NSW Wollongong in a bid to learn the practical skills to be employed as a mental health peer worker.
Peer workers draw upon their own lived experience of suicide, mental illness and recovery to provide support for those accessing mental health care. Peer work is the fastest growing mental health workforce in Australia.
“Like a lot of people who are struggling, I became an expert at hiding my demons because I didn’t want people to see the real me,” Ms Taylor said. “I reached rock bottom after my marriage breakdown where I was battling suicidal thoughts … I knew I had to do something.
“Completing the Diploma of Mental Health has had a hugely positive impact on my own recovery journey and has motivated me to continue on this path.”
In September last year, three months before graduating from TAFE NSW, Ms Taylor secured a job as a peer worker at Wellways in Wollongong.
“I love the job so much and am amazed at how supportive it is at Wellways,” she said. “It’s taught me a lot about myself and I’ve been able to help people. It’s incredible how much professional help is out there when you look around.”
Ms Taylor said the TAFE NSW industry-expert mental health teachers had given her the tools and confidence to thrive in the role.
“The teachers are so supportive, patient and knowledgeable … most of the class wouldn’t have made it through without their personalised support,” she said. “I learnt so much, especially how important actively listening is in a counselling environment.
“I know I don’t have to fix someone, I often just have to be that person to listen and support them. A lot of the time, people with mental health issues just want to be heard and seen, and because of my personal experience with mental illness, they know I understand what they’re going through.”
TAFE NSW Mental Health Teacher Belinda Hawker said Ms Taylor’s experience was a powerful example of why peer support work is such a rapidly growing part of the mental health sector.
“It’s a massively growing field and our graduates have exceptional job outcomes,” Ms Hawker said.
“Peer work has a profound impact on the consumers and on the industry, and TAFE NSW plays a critical role in training the mental health workforce of tomorrow.”
For more information about enrolling in the Diploma of Mental Health at TAFE NSW Wollongong for 2022, call 13 16 01 or visit www.tafensw.edu.au
Media contact: Daniel Johns, TAFE NSW Communications Specialist, mobile 0477 722 428