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How Trauma Impacts Mental Health

Many who experience trauma - such as being diagnosed with a chronic or terminal illness, losing a loved one, or experiencing sexual assault, workplace bullying, domestic violence and more - not only show incredible resilience but can actually thrive in the aftermath of the traumatic event. We talk to 3 advocates who are at different stages of their recovery from trauma about life, self care and finding purpose.

Chris McCann

Chris McCann was born and raised in Melbourne, and had a difficult family upbringing, living in public housing between the ages 5 to 15, moving more than 10 times and was educated at 8 different public schools. Chris’s parents divorced when he was 12. His father was a violent alcoholic and in and out of jail and his mother was had serious mental health issues. Chris left home and school at the age of 15 after becoming a survivor of sex abuse at the hands of a Catholic Priest. Chris played AFL football, cricket and golf and from an early age sport became his escape from the real world and he relied on his sports coaches and friends to keep a roof over his head. He held down jobs from 15-18 working in a brick yard stacking bricks and later worked in an office.

At the age of 18, Chris joined the Victoria Police and had 12 years as a detective working in areas such as task forces and squads including Special Response, Major Crime, Drug, Fraud, Homicide and Organised Crime. He later went back to study finishing his HSC, law, business, public administration and corporate governance. Throughout his career, Chris was involved in a number of shooting incidents, was injured on duty in a shooting and lead a number of high profile investigations. He was on duty in Russell Street when a bomb was exploded, attended the Hoddle Street shooting massacre and the Walsh Street murders of two policemen. In 1996 Chris’s best friend, Walter Mikac, tragically lost his wife and two children in the Port Arthur shootings and Chris became an advocate for gun control and was engaged in the establishment of the Alannah and Madeline Foundation. During his time in the police, Chris was recipient of a number of awards for his dedication to duty and bravery.

After 18 years, Chris left the Victoria Police and went onto work in a number of large national and international companies, establishing fraud investigation, compliance, risk and governance departments at companies such as RACV, NRMA, AMP, GIO, AMP, Allianz, GE and Chubb Insurance.

Chris has always been an advocate of doing what is right and speaking up and from 2016-18 spoke out about what he considered were serious issues of corrupt conduct in a NSW Government Agency. Despite this impacting his career and his health, the matters he raised are now subject to a well publicised independent review of that Government Agency.

For years, to deal with the many traumas Chris had seen, Chris used distance running as a means of keeping his mental health in check. Each time Chris felt like his mental health was deteriorating or under strain he would use running as a means to keep it in balance. He ran more than 100km’s per week for 20-30 years, competed in endurance running events and completed over 40 marathons around the world. The running gave him something to focus on rather than ruminate and have negative and sometimes dangerous thoughts of self harm. While the running has slowly been replaced with long walks, walking the dogs, cycling and home gym sessions, Chris strongly believes there is a link between keeping active and fit and your good mental health.

Chris currently lives in the NSW Southern Highlands of NSW in an old Victorian house taking care of a large garden and his two dogs Milly and Rosie. He volunteers on various community associations and is involved with the arts at the Southern Highlands Artisans Collective and is convinced giving something back to the community also has positive mental health benefits.

Cathy Oddie

Cathy Oddie worked for Centrelink for seven years, before moving on to work in the Superannuation sector. After her role as Business Development and Policy Coordinator at HESTA ended in 2019, Cathy embraced the opportunity to become Monash Health’s first ever Family Violence Lived Experience Consultant within their Mental Health Family Violence Project Team.

Since 2007, Cathy has been a volunteer Survivor Advocate with Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre. This role led Cathy to make a submission and give evidence at the 2015 Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence. Her testimony resulted in two of the final 227 Recommendations, one of which led to the Review of the Victims of Crime Assistance Act which was tabled to Victorian Parliament in 2018.

Cathy was on the working group and co-evaluated the DHHS Pilot Project “Family Violence Survivor Employment Pathways Program” and was also on the expert reference group for WIRE’s “Teachable Moments” Research Project, which was a project which had a focus on financial abuse. In 2017, she was elected to the Committee of Management for Project Respect, which is an organisation which provides assistance and support to women experiencing exploitation, abuse or human trafficking in the sex industry.

Cathy was instrumental in working with HESTA to have the Federal Government open up a review into the eligibility criteria for early release of superannuation and to have family violence included as one of these criteria. During her time at HESTA, she was successful in receiving a grant from Victorian Women’s Trust to improve the economic outcomes for women from vulnerable and disadvantaged backgrounds through bringing together the organisations HESTA, ICAN, Fitted for Work and WAM to deliver a targeted financial literacy for women program using a narrative story-telling approach.

In 2019, Cathy became the first official survivor ambassador for Mettle Women Inc. This is an organisation which provides safe and accessible employment and opportunities to women who have experienced family violence and homelessness to establish financial independence.

Recently Cathy has been appointed to the Victorian Department of Justice and Community Safety’s Victim of Crime Consultative Committee as a Victim Representative. In addition to this appointment, she has just accepted the opportunity to join the Victoria Legal Aid's "Specialist Family Violence Court Project" Steering Committee as a Family Violence Lived Experience Consultant. Cathy is passionately committed to the healing, recovery and financial wellbeing of victim survivors of domestic and family violence.

Lisa McAdams

CEO Safe Space Workplace, Lisa McAdams says companies working with lived experience advocates must remunerate individuals appropriately to show respect for the insights and in many instances additional post graduate training lived experience advocates bring to the table in helping companies understand and better respond to Domestic and Family Violence impacting their employees.

She says, "Once someone leaves an abusive relationship the journey to reclaiming one's life is often long and slow. Workplaces must be sensitive to the problem they seek to help, and ensure that every interaction with a survivor/victim considers financial safety.

My own journey is now over 12 years ago and I can tell you from first hand experience it was tough."

Her company, Safe Space Workplace a Domestic & Family Violence Workplace Training specialises in the implementation of Domestic Violence support training into workplaces. Lisa's first client was EY and since then she has worked with some of the biggest companies and Government Departments.

As a Domestic Family Violence Survivor, with a corporate background Lisa has the knowledge and understanding of what businesses need.

Lisa is passionate about educating workplaces, so employees impacted by DFV are offered the right support because she understands the impact of financial abuse and knows continued employment is key for financial stability along with psychological and emotional well-being.

As a professional speaker she utilises her lived experience to connect and relate to the audience Lisa’s passion for changing the conversation around DFV and engaging with workplaces is at the core of all she does.

Lisa is the author of the book Domestic Violence Changing Culture Saving Lives. A workplace guide for developing a culture of understanding and empathy.

Launched by the NSW Government and EY in 2018 this book helps workplaces to better understand the complexities of domestic family violence, the impact on their business and, the role the workplace plays. It helps employers better understand the signs and symptoms of domestic family violence, embeds empathy and understanding, and develops the confidence to communicate effectively.

Lisa shares her knowledge, strategies, and advice intertwined with her personal story to deepen the understanding of this complex issue.

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