Sarah's story

My name is Sarah Gordon.  I have personal experience of mental distress. I was first diagnosed when I was 17, and I was put in a mental health hospital at the time. I was there six months before I was discharged back into the care of my family, with the advice that a return to university would not be wise and that independent living would not be an option for me.

As it turned out, my parents were not compliant with that advice, and they facilitated and paid for mental health support to enable me to go back to university. At the beginning, it was on a very part-time basis, so I did one paper per semester, and I required about 15 hours of mental health support per week to enable me to do it.

As you can appreciate at that time, it was not the best cost-benefit investment. But as it turned out, over a number of years I managed to complete a bachelor of science, which I majored in psychology, a law degree, which I majored in health law, a masters of bioethics and health law and a PhD in psychological medicine.

But more important than any of that, I don’t live independently, I live with my husband and two children. And now I work for the department of psychological medicine, University of Otago in Wellington, New Zealand.

My job is what I describe as a “service user academic.” I use my personal experience of mental illness to inform mental health research and teaching. My positive outcomes are not necessarily about me or the particular illness I experience, they are about the support that I received right from when I was first diagnosed.

My families' expectations about who I was and what I was capable of never changed. Their perspective was that given the impact of my illness I'd just need a bit more support to realise my dreams and aspirations. People need to know that recovery is not only possible, it is probable but it is dependent on the right attitudes and the right support.

Dr Sarah Gordon, PhD, MBHL, LLB, BSc

Senior Research Fellow/Clinical Lecturer - Service User Academic
Department of Psychological Medicine
School of Medicine and Health Sciences
University of Otago, Wellington