Trigger warning: This story mentions suicide, mental health and transgender references.    

Sandra is a survivor, mother, advocate and an Australian accredited mental health first aid instructor in regional Western Australia. Sandra runs an organisation in the South West called, The Wright Way Ahead.    

Sandra’s passion for mental health awareness started when she was growing up on the farm during times of drought and other hardships, hearing her parents talk about suicide in the context of someone “shooting themselves”. As a child, she had no understanding of what it meant, and it was not until Sandra reached high school that she learnt more about suicide but mostly from her peers. Although, she knew at the time, it was a taboo topic and not to be talked about openly.    

Sandra’s life experience has been traumatic for various reasons, but more so the silence around suicide has frustrated her deeply. Many people around Sandra, her friends and people in her community have taken their own lives. There was little understanding at the time, no acknowledgement of each individual passing and why it occurred. This motivated Sandra to educate herself on the psychology as to why someone may take their own life.    

Mental health for Sandra is personal. Having been married twice, her first husband physically and mentally abused her for 18 years. Thankfully, she was fortunate to have four beautiful children during this very troubling time. However, some of her children are still managing the trauma this relationship imparted on them. Her third oldest was diagnosed with severe autism and asperges, due to physical abuse during her pregnancy.    

He is now 23 and thriving and living independently as well as working full time. He does, however, struggle with his own mental health when he is not working, which at times, has led to him being at high risk of suicide when unsupervised. Sandra explained that her son is missing vital parts of his frontal lobe and therefore is unable to effectively problem-solve. Sandra said the most challenging reality for her son, is that his health problems will always be there, but together they work through each day. 

Sandra also has a transgender adult child who was born with more testosterone than estrogen. Transgender people often class themselves as non-binary. Her child works for a shearing team, and often is asked what is your gender?’. This can be very difficult to emotionally manage when one’s identity is still on a pathway of discovery. Sandra explained that to get their first name changed to be more gender-neutral, they must complete various sessions with a phycologist to deem them viable to make the change. Sandra said this is more common than perhaps you may think.   

Another one of Sandra’s sons at the young age of 5, devastatingly developed PTSD when his father left telling him he was leaving for another woman. He started to self-harm. Sandra says that he is now 12 years old and has only just reached the recovery side. He is thankfully doing well in 2021. Sandra said it was evident experiencing with her son, the lack of understanding around mental health support and mental health awareness in the community and at the school. 

All these experiences contribute to the reasons for Sandra to start her business, The Wright Way Ahead, an organisation founded in WA’s South West, committed to developing and fostering positive partnerships between workplaces and the community.   

The Wright Way Ahead teaches Mental Health First Aid to groups and businesses. They support and train organisations to invest in their people and build positive workforces to create operational readiness for all stakeholders. They provide professional and personal development options for individuals in many fields, such as, community service, work health and safety, interpersonal and intrapersonal skills, to name a few.   

“With education and a conversation with someone, you can identify if they are going through mental health struggles” says Sandra.   

Many adults still lack an understanding of mental health issues and how to get help and get a job whilst suffering with mental health problems. Sandra emphasised that you can still lead a successful career, even when dealing with your mental health.    

With the new Work Health Safety legislation in place with a psychological component, employers must provide employees with safety protocols and policies to allow people to get help and avoid wrongful termination. Additional Information via the legislation is available here.  

Sandra is keen to work with more of Regional Western Australia, stating, “I want to go everywhere”. In-person seminars are the only way for her to monitor people in how they receive, act, and understand the information because a great deal of the information is heavy and emption which can trigger some individuals with their issues.    

Sandra’s personal approach through her own personal struggles not only reflects what a strong person she is but the depth of her understanding of the severity of mental health also allows her to have a strong sense of connection and empathy for the people she works with.   

Learn more about Sandra via https://thewrightwayahead.com.au   

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