ACT Young Woman of the Year Rachael Stevens is a mental health advocate and author of the memoir, The Skeleton Diaries, detailing how she overcame her own struggle with mental illness. She tells Jessica Morris why sharing her story ‘creates freedom for others’.
Why are you passionate about advocating for mental health and suicide prevention?
I am a survivor of a suicide attempt and have battled mental illness personally. This has given me insight and a deep compassion for those who are fighting this battle.
I could have stayed silent and decided not to share my story publicly, but I believe advocating for this issue creates more freedom for others. Sharing stories promotes recovery and the possibility that anyone struggling can have an incredible future.
How did you experience hope and meet God when you were receiving treatment for an eating disorder?
I found hope in a psychiatric ward. I was severely underweight, facing death and asked the question, ‘Where will I go if I die here?’ After days of battling confusion and doubt I prayed, ‘God, if you are real, can you please help me?’
I felt as though God reached out to me and whispered, ‘You are not alone. You will survive this. I will never put you through more than you can handle.’
It was true. The doubt and fear that controlled my life slowly melted away after that day.
Since you entered recovery, you’ve written a book and received numerous accolades. What is your highlight?
Being so public about my own story has resulted in many people sharing their lives with me.
It’s such an incredible privilege to hear about people’s ability to rise from adversity and see the future they have found despite severe challenges.
How do you maintain your own mental health when you’re speaking with young people about such sensitive and heavy issues?
I know my role is not to fix or rescue people, but instead to care, love, serve and show kindness to them. Sometimes the line becomes blurry, but I frequently remind myself that God has the power to truly transform people’s lives, not my own strength or ability.
Aside from public speaking, you also write and paint. How has your creativity helped you express your story?
My creativity has given incomprehensible experiences a sense of meaning. My time in hospital was both scary and transformative. Sometimes suffering can feel meaningless and frustrating. Creativity has empowered me to see my experiences in new and different ways.
What do you want the world to know about mental illness?
I would like the world to know that God’s love is the ultimate remedy to mental illness. This does not mean devaluing medical intervention or minimising the complexity of mental health issues.
I truly believe that God can bring comfort where there is hurt, forgiveness where there is guilt, freedom where there are chains, healing where there is sickness, hope where there is hopelessness and purpose where there is pain.
I want the world to know that there is new life for those who have attempted to take their own.