3 December is the International Day of People with Disability. Alumni, Natasha Jones, is an accomplished student, speaker and volunteer in the mental health space who also has cerebral palsy. Today she shares her experience, amazing achievements in the field of mental health and disability and her dreams for the future.
Tell us a bit about yourself?
I grew up Melton and attended Coburn Primary and Staughton College. I received my first Western Chances Scholarship in 2011. I did my undergraduate at VU studying Psychology and I’m now at Melbourne University completing my Masters of Social work. Outside of studying I’m a crossword enthusiast!
You are currently studying social work – what inspired you to follow that path?
I did my undergrad in psychology at Victoria University (VU) and I enjoyed it but I felt like it was too focused on the science and I was looking around for something to do afterwards. I discovered social work which I found to be a more holistic approach.
I think the holistic approach is really important because mental illness is not just one part of a person’s life. There are many parts of their life that can intersect and have an impact on the person. Psychology focuses on cognitive stuff which is important but doesn’t necessarily take into consideration social circles,workplaces or the role that religion might play in a life, all which could be very important for the person.
You volunteered at Footscray Hospital on the oncology ward counselling patients - what was that experience like?
It was a really intense experience. I remember the first day I went in there and one of the first people I saw was on oxygen and I’d never seen anybody on oxygen before so that was quite confronting.
You would see people at different stages of sickness and you finish your time there and you go out in the world and it’s like “wow, I’m healthy enough to be out here doing what I want to do”. It gave me an appreciation for having your health and that sort of thing.
You do other volunteer work in the mental health space, don't you?
I volunteer with Orygen at the inpatient unit and with headspace on their national youth reference committee. At headspace we advise in relation to policy or mental health promotion, it’s really a wide range of stuff that we provide and consult on.
You have cerebral palsy - what advice would you give to other young students with disability that might feel like there are barriers to them achieving their dreams?
Really just that I know when you are a person with a disability it can seem like there’s a hundred million different barriers and you think people only see your disability. But there are lots of people out there who see and appreciate the things you can do and they are the people that can help you achieve what you want to achieve.
You also work as a public speaker in high schools, what is that experience like?
I work with an organisation called the DAX Centre so I’ve done a lot of speaking to year 12s about mental health and disability. It’s been a really positive response. I’ve had quite a few people come up to me and say they found my talk really interesting and it’s changed the way that they think. I remember one class that sent me a bouquet of flowers and ten hand written letters saying how much of a difference I made to them.
What is your big dream for the future?
I’m not quite sure! I would either like to be a social worker or to go and become a public speaker which I do some of already. I could see myself running groups helping people with disability to have safe and appropriate relationships with other people.
I think able bodied people see people with disability as seeing completely different but we aren’t that different. We have the same thoughts, feelings, dreams and desires that you do we just look different on the outside.
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