Barbara Swain from Ballina's Mental Health Support Group was named 2021 Ballina Shire Citizen of the Year.
Barbara Swain from Ballina's Mental Health Support Group was named 2021 Ballina Shire Citizen of the Year.

How Barbara turned pain into 25 years of hope for others

Barbara Swain, founder of Mental Health Support Group, was named 2021 Ballina Shire Citizen of the Year.

Twenty five years ago, Mrs Swain's son, Barry, lost his battle with depression.

Two years later, she started providing toiletry packs and clothing to people in Lismore Base Mental Health Unit who didn't have family or friends to provide for them.

She did this single-handedly for two years.

A meeting with the Rotary Heath Mental Forum meant the formation of the Northern Rivers Mental Health Support Group (MHSG), an organisation run by volunteers that receives no government funding.

Mrs Swain explained her son moved from the UK to Australia, and it was here he became unwell.

"He was treated at the Mental Health Unit in Lismore and joined a GROW group locally," she said.

"It did him a lot of good and he was beginning to get better.

"But his visa run out and he had to go back to the UK, he could not become a resident of Australia because he had a mental illness.

"Without the support he was getting here, he took his own life not long after returning to the UK."

Mrs Swain has lived in Australia for about 33 years, and it was in Ballina where she became an Australian citizen for 30 years ago.

Mrs Swain said it was very difficult to discuss mental health issues in Australia in the mid 1990s when the group started.

"We held concerts in Lismore, I gave talks all over the place, and I spoke openly about my son's mental health and how he took his own life because the onus became too unbearable," she said.

"Gradually, people started to tell me they had family members going through something similar, and it's so much easier now, but we still have a long way to go."

The group is now a registered charity that supports people with mental illness by providing housing, clothing, furniture and other necessities.

The group currently offers starting packs to people with mental health issues, but the group needs more volunteers.

"This is an award for the community that donates to us and the people who work as volunteers to make the support group a reality," she said.

"We need people to drive the van, we need people to move the furniture, to collect donations, I am just the co-ordinator but we need more help, so if you can help, please contact us."

MHSG are always on the lookout for volunteers. Contact Barbara Swain on 0400 736 815.