In a move that has been hailed as “brave” and “important” by mental health professionals, Blue Mountains mayor Mark Greenhill has publicly revealed his own mental health struggles.
Speaking at the official opening of the When Words Are Not Enough exhibition at Springwood’s Braemar Galley on Saturday (October 13), Cr Greenhill talked about his personal experience with bipolar disorder.
The exhibition, which opened in conjunction with World Mental Health Day, contains works by local artists who practice art therapy, a form of psychotherapy in which clients make art therapeutically.
Cr Greenhill said that while he had not been an art therapy client, he had been in psychotherapy for several years.
“From 2014 until just a few weeks ago, I’ve been in intense psychotherapy,” he said.
“I have bipolar disorder type one… It is a great honour for me to open this exhibition, as psychotherapy is something that has helped immensely.”
The mayor said “our community needs to learn how to normalise mental health because mental health issues are widespread”.
“It could be a mayor, it could be anybody.”
Cr Greenhill paid tribute to psychotherapists, telling the assembled crowd therapists need more recognition and support.
“Being a therapist is very tough. When you look at how prevalent mental illness is in society, you’ll – unlike a brain surgeon – never know how many lives you’ve saved.
“We need to learn to support the therapists. The whole of society is better off because you’re prepared to help others.”
The mayor’s comments were lauded by members of the Nepean Blue Mountains Art Therapy group, which organised the exhibition.
“It was very brave and humbling of him to openly share his experience,” said art therapist Nicole Luhrs, one of 17 therapists with work in the exhibition.
“The mayor’s important comments show that mental health challenges can be experienced by anyone across different genders, occupations and income brackets.”
Art therapist and community worker Martin Roberts said: “The mayor’s openness goes a long way towards easing the stigma associated with mental health, which is a significant obstacle for people living with a mental health condition.”
Wentworth Falls art therapist Annette Coulter, the author of several seminal books in the field, said: “The mayor is proof that people can function very well and to a very high level if they have well-managed treatment in place.”
Ms Coulter welcomed Cr Greenhill’s call for more support for therapists. She said this was particularly relevant to art therapists.
“In Britain and North America, art therapy is considerably better known and accepted.
“Registered art therapists undergo rigorous postgraduate training at one of the three universities in Australia that teach art therapy. While we’re recognised by the National Disability Insurance Scheme, we’re not supported by Medicare and don’t get a lot of mental health funding.”
The When Words Are Not Enough exhibition continues until Sunday, November 4.
If you need help, call Lifeline: 13 11 44