CEO, The Australian Centre for Lived Experience; Ministerial Complaints Officer, National Disability Insurance Scheme; Academic, Stott’s College, Bachelor of Community Services
Living with Bipolar Affective Disorder and Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Matthew’s mental health challenges have fueled their passion to become a global mental health activist promoting human rights, social justice and lived experience perspective from a public health and Mad Studies discipline. Peer support and a strong care team have been integral to their journey toward living well. For anyone who might be struggling with their mental health, Matthew wants you to know, “We all have a reason to be on planet earth, you are a spiritual gift, and important to someone.”

Matthew’s Story

How has your condition impacted your life?

Bipolar has impacted my life in disrupting my security, particularly financial and material security, due to periods of spending and impulsive buying during mania. It has led to severe depressive episodes and ongoing suicidal thoughts for months at a time, leading to long hospital admissions and removal from society. It has impacted my friendships, as I have been inconsistent and not present. I have struggled to date due to the disruptions and stigma associated with low prevalence mental health issues and sanist attitudes. I have had to stop study and leave both a PhD and JD due to the demands on my mental health and lack of support at the university level for neurodivergent folk. Family has been a constant trigger, and I have had to remove myself from toxic relationships that adversely impact my mood.

When were you first aware of your condition and what was your most difficult time?

I have been aware of internal distress since I was a child. I struggled with anxiety throughout childhood due to disruption, abuse, neglect, abandonment and rejection. I became more aware of depression when I experienced suicidal thoughts associated with my sexuality and living in a homophobic family and community where I felt there was no way forward. The most difficult time was when I was bullied at work and felt suffocated in a peer-based role leading to a severe suicide attempt and several months in hospital. My mind felt imprisoned, suffocated and ready to depart the physical world to be spiritually with my mother. I attempted to take my life the same way she did, at a similar date, and similar age. At the time, I thought that I was not dying, I was going home. I have since learnt not to diffuse my experience with my mothers.

What is your life like now? What does success and living well look like for you?

I am currently in a stable full time public service career and am moving back into mad academia and activism which is my passion. I love public speaking and sharing my story. I also love research and the potential for activism to come from shifting dialogue through science. I am currently happily single and very engaged back with friends and community. I partake in pilates, singing lessons and am keen to start dancing. I love to go out and have a drink and am looking forward to travelling the world once again when plane tickets reduce! I am currently studying the Masters of Mad Studies, which is the first discipline to centre mad folks’ perspective in alternatives to the biomedical model in mental health and seek to address social and structural determinants that create the conditions for human suffering and distress.

What help or specific strategies helped you to get well and move to stability?   

I have a strong care team around me that I engage weekly to keep me on track. I manage my stressors, such as family, with clear boundaries to maintain stability and security. I exercise everyday to regulate my mood, and have assistance with meal preparation to ensure my diet and nutrition marry up with my exercise to maintain my overall wellbeing. I seek out therapy and speak to friends when I am struggling. Peer support has been integral to my journey, both formal and informal. I drink two liters of water per day, and ensure the bottle is on my desk. I have a healthy sex life and like to go on dates. I am aware of my early warning signs and need to push and challenge myself when old negative habits, thoughts or beliefs take me down a path of shutting down.

Are there positives that have come from having a mental health condition?

I have found my purpose and strengths through survival, resilience and growth from complex grief, loss and trauma. My ‘illness’ and mental distress have been a neurological diverse gift from the universe, and most probably a gift from mother in spirit who I absolutely embody and live my life in the dedication of alongside my siblings.

Severe and enduring mental distress often results in deep critical self-reflection, advanced empathy and spiritual enlightenment. I found myself through my adversity, I found my purpose, I found self-love, and I found out that I did not have to take the same path as my mother.

Most of all through my lived experience I found my voice, I felt empowered and somewhat enraged by the system designed to address the genesis of distress – trauma – with an unfounded focus almost solely on the biomedical perspective.

Through my hyper-vigilance of responding to the trauma I began to behave out of survival and safety, socially engineering leadership skills and qualities necessary to protect myself and my younger siblings who I viewed as my children. 

Bipolar or shifting moods is a superpower and a gift that has brought spiritual enlightenment, intelligence and creativity to my world and the people around me. I would not be the international activist I am today without the way I am.

How has your condition impacted your work and your career? 

I have struggled to maintain one full-time role and am still striving to find an internal mental health activist role that fulfills both financial security and my overarching purpose to share my story and advocate for improved social and structural conditions in mental health.

Sometimes I have fallen behind other peers in leadership spaces and felt like a failure. I have been forced to resign due to my mental health from unsupportive workplaces, asked to stop my advocacy work on the side and have experienced sanism and discrimination as a result.

Through diverse living experiences, I have developed a passion for leadership, creativity and complex systems thinking in my roles in academia, activism and public service. Without living with Bipolar and Complex Trauma, I would not have the same diversity in thought to apply myself in global mental health advocacy.

I have received Australia’s National Mental Health Advocate award by the Mental Health Foundation of Australia in 2020. I am the Founder/CEO of The Australian Centre for Lived Experience, an international peer-run consultant practice. I previously represented the Western Pacific Region on the Global Mental Health Peer Network and was a Global Shaper with the World Economic Forum. Furthermore, I advise the World Health Organisation and other global mental health institutes on lived experience mental health perspective and peer work practice. I have been a social work lecturer and researcher in mental health and trauma.

What words of encouragement would you give to someone struggling with a condition similar to yours?  

I would remind you, that you are not alone and it will pass. Trust the process, reach out even when your mind tells you to stay in bed, listen to others when you are not yourself, and find inner peace with trauma and grief that will continue to rear its head throughout your life. Accept what you can’t control. Engage with a care team, engage with peers, and remember your strengths. We all have a reason to be on planet earth, you are a spiritual gift, and important to someone. Your physical health as treatment and prescription really should be your primary mode of addressing your mental health needs.

What motivated you to join The Stability Network?

I wanted to be part of a network of living experience leaders, be a role model to others and inspire hope for those struggling to live with their distress and/or diverse experiences that are misunderstood by others. I hope to create a platform for activism and challenging sanism, alongside contributing to a shifting dialogue around the strengths and gifts to come from diverse mental health and neurodivergent spectrums.

What resources have helped and/or inspired you on your journey?

I love reading about mad studies, The Body Keeps the Score and anything from a person with lived/living experience about their journey.

Is there anything else you want to say or share?

You can learn more about my story here: Lived Experience Profile – Matthew Jackman – Harvard Global Health Institute