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A new sense of belonging, thanks to Taree CDAT

Tim McLean, 32, is chairperson of Taree CDAT. As he puts it, he has had ‘multiple lived experiences of mental illness, alcohol and other drugs’.

Before moving to Taree, Tim lived in Sydney, where he went to school and then university to do a Bachelor of Fine Arts. He led ‘a rock-and-roll lifestyle’ as a singer in an alternative metal band, then also worked as a stage manager and backline tech.

Tim says, ‘While I understood music and art and how to put on events, I had no understanding or acceptance of my mental illnesses or my issues with alcohol and other drugs.’

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After ten years of this ‘sex, drugs and rock-and-roll’ lifestyle, Tim says he ‘created a catalyst that led [him] to change’: he was charged with dangerous driving causing grievous bodily harm, failure to produce identity of driver, and driving intoxicated.

Tim has no memory of being in the car or of telling the police ‘they didn’t need to breath-test me as I had consumed at least 24 full-strength beers before driving’ – he only found this out later from the police and witness reports.

The incident scared him so much that he checked himself into detox and rehab, sold everything related to his professional life, gave up his band, and in November 2014 moved to Taree to get away from the old environments and social circles ‘that would only assist me in destroying my mind and body’.

Tim explains what happened next: ‘When I arrived in Taree, I didn’t know anyone – and that was the point. I changed my mental health plan so I had new local doctors, counsellors and psychs. My counsellor recommended an organisation called RichmondPRA that would help me get some sense of community involvement and inclusion, as losing my sense of belonging and my connection to myself had had a negative impact on my depression and anxiety.

‘I did research on the best industry in Taree regarding work, and it turned out to be community services. So while I was serving my ten-month intensive correction order for court, I also decided to challenge myself and committed to do a Diploma of Community Services, a Certificate 4 in Mental Health and a Certificate 4 in Mental Health Peer Work.’

It was while Tim was undertaking his courses at Taree TAFE that he first encountered the CDAT as part of a work experience placement. He soon became a member: ‘It was an organisation that supported my perspectives on what it is really like to live in a community when you have a history of AOD issues.’ He was elected as chairperson of the CDAT in late 2015.

All up, Tim did more than 700 hours of volunteering in the local community in 2015 and started the year 2016 with a new perspective on life: ‘I have a job as a support worker for people with disabilities at a local organisation (a position I believe my CDAT involvement helped me get), and am trying to start a family with my partner in this beautiful town called Taree that I now proudly call my home.

‘Before I got involved in the CDAT, I thought very negatively about who I was and where I was going, and believed I was just a “mental druggo”. Now I am finally starting to think of myself again as a productive member of society. Being a CDAT member has given me a new sense of belonging and I have realised that, as a person with a lived experience of mental illness and AOD issues, I can pass on my knowledge and perspectives to others in the community.

‘I really believe in the CDAT and am proud that I can advocate for the things I believe in with strong community support. To be part of a network of local people with lived experiences who really know how to support each other has had a huge positive effect on my life and my mental health, and makes me sincerely appreciate the acceptance I have received from my fellow CDAT members and the Greater Taree community.’