Religion and/or Spirituality on our Mental Health – A Conversation We Must Have!

“I prayed my anxiety away many times ” Sharon Orapeleng

“I prayed my anxiety away many times” Sharon Orapeleng

It is estimated that almost half (45%) of the Australian population will experience a mental disorder at some time in their lifetime (about 8.7 million people based on the estimated 2017 population). An extract from Our World Data estimates estimates that globally around 970 million people were living with a mental health or substance-use disorder in 2017. There is no denying that mental health issues are one of the biggest challenges in our world today. As a society - as we have more and more public conversations around this issue; and the traditional stigma associated with mental health slowly but surely fades away; it is perhaps likely that we have in fact underestimated just how many of us are impacted in some way by mental health challenges.

 Over the last ten years; as well as working in the Queensland mental health system; I have also been proactively raising general community and workplace awareness and understanding of mental health issues through the delivery of several mental health literacy courses including Mental Health First Aid. Lately I have been reflecting on this journey, trying to find the missing link in the narrative. That missing link in the conversation I believe, is the interrelation of religion and/or spirituality with our mental health and how we can harness this resource to positively influence our mental health and emotional wellbeing.

In 2014 after a very traumatic car accident, I was diagnosed with anxiety. As I navigated the system to get help and support for myself, I remember having a conversation with my mother about my diagnosis and she said something to me in Setswana (my mother language); that she often said whenever things were tough; and that is “Modimo o teng”  - which is translated in English as “God is there”. This is a phrase my mother used to bring me comfort, meaning and hope to soften any struggles of life.

Religion and/or spirituality is an important source of strength for many people who experience life challenges including mental health issues.

The 2016 Australian Census indicated that Christian religion affiliations were reported by 52% of the population. Non-Christian religions represented about 8% of the population. The 2016 Australian census also recorded that the combined number of people who self-identified as Muslim in Australia, from all forms of Islam, constituted 2.6% of the total Australian population. About 39% of the population stated they had no religion or did not state their religion. 

Religion or faith-based affiliation is a significant expression for more than 60% of Australians, therefore a conversation about religion and/or spirituality and its associated outcomes for mental health is overdue. Religion and/or spirituality provides an individual with a sense of connection to something bigger than self and how one fits in with the world. It also creates a sense of community and connectedness, and most importantly gives the individual a sense of purpose and hope. All of these are protective factors for mental health and have positive impacts on the individual’s wellbeing.

Although there are many documented positive impacts of religion and/or spirituality on the overall health and wellbeing of an individual, there is no denying that the religion and/spirituality is expressed differently depending on the individual belief system which is influenced by many factors including cultural factors. This differing belief system can also be detrimental to people’s own health and wellbeing.  For example, people who believe that prayer and/or meditation alone will cure their mental health issues are not likely to present voluntarily at a mental health service for care and support. Some individuals would choose different forms of spiritual cleansing such as exorcism over cognitive behaviour therapy and other evidence-based therapies any day.

There is also an increasing stigmatisation of mental health issues in the faith-based communities including the believe that mental illness is caused by lack of prayer and faith or sin; sometimes it is the believe that the evil spirit has influence on the individual experiencing a mental health crisis. This belief system is likely to lead to people being disconnected from communities of support and service providers resulting in a decline in people’s mental health.

Religion and/or spiritual interventions and mental health care and support are not supposed to be mutually exclusive but must interface and align to enable the flourishing of the whole of the person and challenge understanding on perceptions of mental health issues.

My belief is that as long as the mental health sector; and the messaging around mental health and suicide prevention miss this; I fear many people will simply choose to continue to just “pray about it” rather than a combination of prayer or meditation and professional mental health care. Similarly, in cases of individuals faced with severe illnesses such as cancer; this can be observed in evidence of increased mortality where individuals embrace alternative therapies at the exclusion of conventional medicine when often the best outcomes are seen by those who incorporate both in combination.

There is no doubt that religion and/or spirituality forms a part of the individual’s core understanding of the world they live in and how they interact with it and others. Most poignant on this is the application of religion and or/spirituality as a coping mechanism for people from ethnic communities which bring enormous implications in relation to explanatory models of mental health issues, service access and treatment.

If you were to ask me about the impact of my faith in my recovery journey from anxiety – I will tell you that “I was spurred on by my mother’s favourite phrase of ‘Modimo o teng’ – and yes I prayed my anxiety away many times, but I also saw my doctor, had a mental health care plan, took medication, saw a psychologist and did many other things to keep me well and still do”

Mental Health is such a challenging issue, we must identify and utilise every possible tool at our disposal in a collaborative sense so that no one is left behind, no one feels isolated and no one ever feels the need to choose faith and/or spirituality over professional mental health care and support. As unlikely bedfellows as it seems, they are not meant to be mutually exclusive.

Upcoming Community Conversations
If you are interested to be part of discussions on this topic – Sharon Orapeleng will be hosting a series of community conversations on Religion and/or Spirituality and Mental Health in Brisbane from September 2019. If you are interested to know more details please send email to or check the website on for further updates.

Follow Sharon Orapeleng on social media Twitter- @
sharonora  Facebook -  @SharonOrapeleng  Linkedin @SharonOrapeleng

If this topic has caused any concerns for you or someone you know, please call the following helplines or visit your local GP.
Lifeline Australia                           13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service           1300 659 467
Kids Helpline                                   1800 55 1800
MensLine Australia                        1300 78 99 78
Looking for support and advice, call beyond blue - 1300 22 4636


Australian Migration Debate- Changing the African Narrative

In August, Queenslanders have a month of celebrating our cultural diversity. This is the State’s largest celebration of multiculturalism which acknowledges that regardless of our different journeys to these shores, in Queensland we are welcomed.

This is the time where everything “exotic” is celebrated. Many people have the opportunity to try something new, whether it is the food, music and dancing, or perhaps watch a multicultural fashion show. This is celebration of us in all our diversity.

However, as an African Australian, I cannot help but feel a sense of uneasiness as I continue to watch the unfolding story in the media and the political spotlight that continues to dehumanise a section of our community.

The headlines and discerning voices are amplified and continue to vibrate throughout my consciousness – “…. they don’t belong, they don’t integrate, send them back to where they come from, they are responsible for crime, they are gangs, people are afraid to go out at night because of them….” A continuous narrative aimed at marginalising African Australians mainly in Victoria, but spreading rapidly across the whole nation. 

This current narrative about African Australians is insidious, it damages the whole of our celebrated multiculturalism. This narrative threatens to exclude African Australians from the basic human equality, their belonging to this greatest southern land of Australia in question, their voices muffled and silenced.

This continuous spotlight on our communities devalues our stand in the wider Australian community and the most disheartening thing is that it is spearheaded by political propaganda and mistruths.

The collective bashing of our communities’ identity leads to our model multicultural Australia being accustomed to performing and entrenching racism, discrimination and oppression of African Australians. This rhetoric is simply wrong and must be condemned.

More importantly the consequences of words being spat around so carelessly impact deeply on our young people. It further marginalises them, it throws questions about who they are, their worth, their contribution, their belonging.

It is surely our duty as Queenslanders, and Australians to stand together and condemn the apparent deployment of dehumanising language which only leads to societal hierarchy, social isolation, mental health issues and can certainly lead to targeted hostility and violence directed towards African Australians.

We cannot sit back and allow racism to manifest, we must demand better from our nations leadership, we must expect responsible media reporting including a media code of practice that abates explicit focus on ethnicity and race when reporting crime.

It seems like we have learned nothing from the past; that the singling out of a community relating to actual or perceived criminality; has everlasting impact on their well-being and integration. The continual marginalisation of each new wave of ethnic minorities - whether they Italian, Greek, Vietnamese, Lebanese & other Muslim countries, Chinese and now of course African nations – is historically driven by a small but increasingly vocal and agitating minority. When the vast majority of Australians have positive experiences with each new wave – so much so that inevitably the food and culture of each ‘New Australian’ becomes part of our national psyche, our national identity – why therefore do the media pander to the disruptive narrative of a few closed minded groups that assume they speak on behalf of us all, when nothing could be further from the truth.

Surely there comes a time when there is a realisation that we simply cannot continue to travel this road again and again. Racism should and cannot be an acceptable part of our identity as a nation. We cannot let the vocal minority of racist right wing section of our community threaten our racial and social harmony.

This August, during multicultural month, let me remind Queenslanders that we need to redouble our efforts and commitment to end racism in all sections of our community and it starts with you and me! Our diversity is our strength and we must work hard to keep it that way!

Author: Sharon Orapeleng is a community advocate, a mental health professional and Principal Consultant at Psyched Solutions.

Lets have a conversation about saving lives!

I was recently speaking to a friend about issues around mental health, and the impact to the individual, families and communities. Somehow the conversation drifted to the topic of suicide and suicidal thoughts and behaviours.

My friend said to me “I truly believe that people who take their own lives are so selfish, there is no problem in the world that equates to ending your life”. As I sat there listening to this friend narrate the story of people she knows who have taken their own life, who she perceives as “ungrateful” and “going to hell” – passing judgement - I could feel the urge to immediately stop the conversation as it was becoming too “uncomfortable”.

I kept asking myself questions - How can I change the perception of people like her who believe suicide and suicidal thoughts and behaviours are an abomination? That suicide is simply unforgivable?

Unfortunately, her perception of suicide is very common. There is already existing stigma around people who occasionally struggle with everyday life due to various mental health issues and other social factors. There are good days and bad days, but some days are much, much worse.

When it comes to suicidality many people suffer in silence because of the “shame” of admitting to themselves and others around them that they feel like “life is not worth living”. That they may get called “selfish” “uncaring” and all other names. They carry the guilt of feeling how they feel, increasingly feeling isolated from the “accepted community judgement and perceptions”.

People who think about suicide are in pain, a silent pain that feels like a bottomless pit, it has no end and can be all too consuming and debilitating. To them it is not necessarily wanting to end their own life, it is more about wanting the pain they feel to stop.

This is how I explained it to my friend during our long conversation, and when she said to me “But how do you know this? How do you know it is emotional pain they feel?” I said to her “It is because I have known that pain”. She looked at me with almost unbelieving eyes – “but you are one of the strongest people I know, how, why…..”. She had no more words at that moment.

You see, there is no such thing as a “typical” sufferer, and those who do feel these thoughts are often very adept at hiding it even from their closest friends and colleagues – which is why it can come across as a seismic shock when someone within our circle of contacts succumbs to their internal demons.

I am grateful for the conversation like the one I had with my friend and; over the course of years, many others; because conversations such as this can help remove the stigma associated with mental health issues and suicidal thoughts and behaviours. Conversations such as this can change perception and conversations like this can help build understanding and compassion.

Conversations like this can help save a life.

How can we stem the tide of this preventable death by suicide if we are unable to talk about it? As for me, this is a conversation that must be heard!

Here are some facts about this suicide we should all be aware of:

  • According to Australian Bureau of Statisticsdata on suicide deaths in Australia, over 3,000 people died by suicide in 2015. That equates to around 8 people who tragically take their own live in Australia every single day.

  • Over 65,000 Australians make a suicide attempt every year

  • Around 400,000 Australians experience suicidal thoughts every year

  • Around 35,000 Australians are admitted to hospital for suicide-related injuries every year

  • Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians between 15 and 44 years of age.

  • Many people who die by suicide have experienced a mental illness.

  • Often people who are considering suicide are dealing with a combination of poor mental health and difficult life events.

Individual and community’s perception of suicidal behaviour can play an important role in preventing suicide or the degree to which suicidal behaviour is disguised. The great majority of people who experience a mental illness do not die by suicide.  However, of those who die from suicide, more than 90 percent have a diagnosable mental disorder. It is critical that we must learn how to have the conversation about suicide and how to safely support someone thinking about suicide.

To tie in with the National R U OK Day on Thursday September 14 - which inspires and empowers everyone to meaningfully connect with people around them and to support anyone struggling with life by starting the conversation around mental health – I am hosting “The MHFA for Suicidal Person”. This will provide you with practical skills and knowledge about how to safely support when someone is experiencing suicidal thoughts and behaviours and allows you to practice these skills in a safe environment.

You will learn:

·        Understanding accurate information about suicide in the Australian context.

·        How to identify signs and risk of suicide

·        First aid guidelines of how to help when someone is experiencing suicidal thoughts and behaviours

·        Practicing these skills in a safe environment.

MHFA for the Suicidal Person Course is not a postvention course and is not recommended for individuals recently bereaved by suicide. The MHFA for the Suicidal Person Course is not a therapy course but will help you to learn more about suicide prevention and how to have the conversation that can save a life as well as where to get help and support.

Course Format:

  • This is a 4-hour face to face course to be held on Thursday 14 September 2017 from 1pm to 5pm.

Please Note: We run this course in small group numbers which allows creation of a safe and comfortable space for participants and allows us to provide support and care needed. Reserve your space now.

Pricing: $99 (incl. GST) per person        

Course participants receive a Handbook to keep and receive a digital Certificate of Completion when you submit online feedback.

Places are limited. For registration or more information, please contact us on 0411 330 382 or send us email to

Completion of this course does not accredit you to become Mental Health First Aider - you need to complete the 12 HR Standard Mental Health First Aid Course if you want to be accredited as a Mental Health First Aider.

If interested in the accredited 12 Hr Mental Health First Aid Course – our upcoming public course is on Friday 10 November 2017 and Saturday 11 November 2017. Spaces are limited so please reserve your booking here.

Lending a helping hand during mental health distress through Mental Health First Aid

Mental health pain is as real as any physical pain to any part of the body. However, unlike physical pain where sometimes the injury is visible or physically and behaviourally expressed, mental health pain can be a very hidden, isolating, deep dark pain that may seem to have no end. Whether it is physical pain or mental health pain both require some sort of intervention to ease the pain or stop the pain and without intervention it can lead to a crisis situation. The importance of knowing what to do, how to do it, when to do it, and who to call for support can be a matter of life and death.

Mental health issues are more common than you think. One in five of us will experience a common mental health illness such as depression, anxiety or alcohol and other drug misuse in each year. This means someone in your close friend circle, work mate, family, community, or even yourself may suffer the impact of mental health illness at some point in your life.

Just like physical first aid and CPR, mental health first aid is a life skill, the course teaches you to identify the early signs of developing mental health issues and to know of local mental health services and support systems available as well as ability to respond effectively during a mental health crisis situation; such as someone experiencing suicidal thoughts and behaviours; until professional help is accessed.

For Sharon Orapeleng, a mental health professional and Director of Psyched Solutions with accreditation to deliver the mental health first aid course, this issue is personal. “

“Mental health issues are the reality of many Australians every day and helping to create awareness around the impact of these issues is something I am very passionate about, because it can save a life” she said.

Diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and anxiety a few years ago Sharon knows first-hand the debilitating impact of mental illness and how early intervention can help save a life.

“As a mental health professional working in the mental health system, and wearing many hats as a mother, wife, community leader, advocate and consultant; I was the one who always helped anyone who needed help, always doing for others; and when a car accident turned my life around, no one outside my immediate family noticed I was struggling, no-one noticed I needed help” She said.

“It was easier to talk about the physical pain, the back surgery, the struggle to walk, the physical healing but the emotional pain remained and until I received the help needed.”

“You never know what is around the corner, your life can change in a second and knowing what to do, how to help yourself or lend a helping hand to another person during the struggle with mental health issues is critical.”

Sharon has been delivering mental health first aid course for over five years to the public, government and non-government organisations such as Australian Red Cross and many others. In 2016 she teamed up with Brisbane rugby community through the newly formed organisation “Rugby Unite” to raise mental awareness in the community of rugby as their Mental Health First Aid Course Instructor.

“The aim of the Rugby Unite organisation in partnership with Mental Awareness Foundation is to have every rugby club in Queensland to have a trained Metal Health First Aid Officer including players, coaches, referees and club members, to create a supportive community that allows for mental health issues to be talked about and help people access much needed help” Sharon said.

To register for Sharon’s upcoming accredited Mental Health First Aid Course on Friday 30 June and Saturday 1 July 2017 in Ashgrove, Brisbane contact Sharon at Psyched Solutions, or call 0411 330 382. Direct link for booking is here

To learn more about Mental Health First Aid go to

Mental Health First Aid for the Suicidal Person - A new short Course!

The international theme for World Mental Health Day in 2016 is: Dignity in Mental Health - Psychological & Mental Health First Aid for All:

To tie in with the World Mental Health Day, Mental Health First Aid launched a new course 'MHFA for the Suicidal Person' a half day (4hrs) stand alone face-to-face MHFA course which teaches participants how to apply suicide first aid skills to save a life.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics recently released data on suicide deaths in Australia. In 2015, over 3,000 people died by suicide, that equates to around 8 people who tragically take their own live in Australia every single day. 
These statistics on suicide are incredibly sobering and highlights the need to break down stigma attached to this taboo subject. Suicide and thoughts of suicide is a reality for many people every single day.
We are pleased to be able to offer this short course on 'MHFA for the Suicidal Person' which allows us to focus the attention on this topic and teach people how to provide first aid skills to anyone with suicidal thoughts and behaviors and support the person to access professional help.

Having a conversation about Suicide breaks down the stigma and saves life!

Contact us to arrange for the 4hrs - MHFA for the Suicidal Person course for your organisation or community.

If this topic has caused any concerns for you or someone you know, please call the following helplines
Lifeline Australia                         13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service           1300 659 467
Kids Helpline                               1800 55 1800
MensLine Australia                    1300 78 99 78
Looking for support and advice, call beyond blue - 1300 22 4636
 Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS National) - 131 450

Have a great Mental Health Week!
Sharon Orapeleng, Director and Trainer
Psyched Solutions

Pauline is Back– Be Afraid!

Pauline Hanson

Many of us watched in shock the events that unfolded in the last few days after the federal elections when it became clear that Pauline Hanson, one of the most racist politicians (and proud of it) has been successful in her bid for a seat in the Australian Senate.  All of a sudden I was reminded of the early years of my time when I first arrived in Australia a little over 17 yrs. ago and Pauline was in Parliament as an Independent for the seat of Oxley in Brisbane. Her anti-immigration and anti-multiculturalism rhetoric still echoes loudly and whereas it was predominantly targeted towards people of Asian backgrounds back then, it has now shifted to those of Muslim backgrounds as well as those others who do not fit her mould of what it is to be Australian.

You see Pauline Hanson represent a minority of Australians with far right views who feel legitimized to voice their bigotry and racist views hidden as nationalism or patriotism.  Pauline Hanson, her One Nation party and the litany of her followers believe that whoever is deemed as non-Australian (whatever that means) is not welcomed here especially if you are from Muslim background or Asian background.

As an African Australian it may seem that somehow I have escaped her wrath but then again with this increasing focus of ‘everything non-white Australian is bad for Australia’, I cannot for one second feel comfortable nor exult in my seemingly narrow escape. 

Pauline Hanson has form targeting anyone from a "non white, Christian Anglo-Saxon background" who has lived and thrived in this country - having arrived post the 1965 abolition of the White Australia policy. In effect, the One Nation party has decided that you are not worthy of Australia. By the way this is almost fifty percent of the Australian population born overseas or have 1 parent born overseas.

Clearly what appears to be Pauline Hanson's extreme views have big audience and following to the point that people found her worthy of a Senate seat in our highest office in the land, Parliament House of Australia in Canberra.  As I sit down and scratch my afro braided hair, I wonder how did we get here? Almost a year ago I listened to an interview with Dr Tim Soutphommasane, Race Discrimination Commissioner as Australia commemorated the 40th anniversary of the Racial Discrimination Act, an occasion that celebrated and reflected on four decades of Australia’s first federal human rights and anti-discrimination legislation in combating racism and prejudice since 1975. Forward to now, as I read Pauline Hanson’s One Nations party’s policies, I am left wondering, confused and a sudden anxious feeling of ‘how did we get here’?

How come we have people in our communities, in suburbia who feel that people from migrants and refugee backgrounds are invading our suburbs and taking our jobs rather than contributing and advancing to our Australia? Are we so afraid of our cultural diversity that we have to blame "them" for everything that is not going right in this country?

Rather than chastise the seemingly hostile and negative policies of Pauline Hanson and her One Nation party, I would like to remind Pauline that Muslims have been here pre Federation. Even before the White Australia policy, people from Asian backgrounds were here working in the gold fields of the small town of Bendigo, Victoria and other places. Yes, Pauline those people who you deem to have invaded your beautiful suburban towns have lineage that probably predates your ancestry in Australia!

There is no denying that Pauline needs to be reminded that this is 2016 Australia not 1960s and we live in a global society as global citizens. In particular, for Australia we all are recent arrivals in an ancient continent be it more than 30,000 yrs of our first nations people or yesterday as our most recent arrivals, we all call Australia home. We have brought to this land immense prosperity, innovation, diverse cultures and all that contributes to the magical tapestry of our Australia. We all belong here just much as you do and now share these boundless plains we call Australia.

Finally, I would suggest that rather than the vitriol you continue spew about people from the Muslim faith, or those from Asian backgrounds or anyone else for that matter, reflect on your own journey to this land Australia. And while you are at it, I urge you to accept that halaal snack pack, and embrace it as enthusiastically as perhaps the other well-known imported cuisines namely McDonalds and KFC. I invite you to sit down and share a meal with someone at your local Chinese restaurant, am sure there is one, or come to African House in Brisbane and immerse yourself in the beats of traditional Djembe drums and Mbira as you share the simple colourful things that makes our multicultural Australia the envy of many nations around the world.  The simple things that speak loudly and say we are Queenslanders, and we all belong here!

By Sharon Orapeleng


Sharon Orapeleng is a Director and Principal Consultant at Psyched Solutions. She is a social disruptive change maker, and advocate for social inclusion and social justice with passion for raising awareness on issues in relation to diversity, equality, domestic violence and mental health.

Welcoming 2016 - Thank you for your support in 2015

2015 has allowed me to thrive and am so grateful for the awesome opportunities to excel doing what I love. I received great press coverage including a number of print media thanks to Courier Mail Q Weekend, Brisbane News Magazine, Sunday Mail, online talk shows A_to_A_talk_show and Entrepreneurs of Africa, Our Definition of Success Podcast, radio broadcast inc Canberra's 1Way FM and internationally with Botswana Gabz Fm show called The Link with Jessica.

I had incredible partnerships and collaborative work including with organisations such s QPAC and Friends of Heal Foundation, African Women Group in Sydney, Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, AFL QLD, and many others. I continued to mentor a number of young people, continued my roles in advisory boards and management committees and advocacy on issues of mental health, domestic violence, service access etc. I also continued my public training in Mental Health First Aid increasing community awareness and literacy on mental health issues. 

Although I thrived, my greatest struggle has been my recovery from back surgery as a result of car accident sustained in 2014 which has been very slow, painful and impacted greatly on my ability to do more of the things I love. However I am forever grateful for my family and friends for holding my hand through it all and making sure I come out of it all although bruised but stronger. 

One other sad event in 2015 is saying goodbye to my work with Mental Health in Multicultural Australia (MHiMA) project. Four yrs ago I was employed to establish this national project to provide a national focus for advice and support to providers and governments of issues of mental health and suicide prevention for people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.  It has been a great privilege and an honour to have worked in this project. I am sure those taking on after us will do justice to the awesome work our team did across Australia. The project is currently under review and recommendations will be made to the government in March about its future inline with the new reforms. I am proud of many achievements of the project but most importantly the development and implementation of the Framework for Mental health in Multicultural Australia a tool that increases cultural responsiveness of mental health services. I hope this will continue.

I look forward to your support and partnerships again 2016!

See my video message here

Thank you

The Survival Spirit : I am a Breast Cancer Survivor - By B.K.S Orapeleng

October is Australia’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which provides an opportunity for us all to focus on breast cancer and its impact on those affected by the disease in our community. Like many families around the world, breast cancer has impacted my family. 

It was in October 2010 when I received the horrible news that no daughter should receive. It was about my mother Betty’s diagnosis of breast cancer. This diagnosis came as a huge blow to my mother who was at that time supporting her sister Mmeisi through her recent diagnosis of breast cancer. My mother is a pillar of strength in our family and to witness and to experience her pain and despair throughout her recovery journey from a breast cancer diagnosis has been both inspirational and heart breaking.

In March 2013 we experienced a terrible loss of Mmeisi, my mother’s sister. I was there in the last week of her life, I held her hand, I experienced her pain, I fought with her and  for her but in the end, the battle with cancer was lost. She was a mother of five, with the youngest only five years old. A lot can be said about the public health system in Botswana that I believe failed her, that failed us, that failed her children but anger will not bring her back. I now focus my energies in creating awareness of breast cancer and talking about the importance of early detection and treatment and fundraising for breast cancer research. 

As a daughter of a mother who is a breast cancer survivor and a very strong family history of breast cancer, I have been put in the basket of the "high risk" category, which means every 6 months I go through the rigorous breast cancer examination to rule out anything sinister. Every 6 months I sit by the waiting room of the Wesley Breast Cancer Clinic  after all the testing waiting to hear whether I have cancer or not. It is one of the most horrid moments of my life. However, I am grateful to have access to the best health care system here in Australia and  can sleep better at night knowing the rigorous diagnostic process I undertake every 6 months will ensure that if ever anything develops, it will be detected early which increases chances of survival. Above all, having a mother with such a champion heart and strength like no other makes me belief that any health changes that come my way, I will survive it. She continues to pave a way for us and we draw on her "survival spirit".  

As we conclude this breast cancer awareness month of October, I like to share with you in her own words, my mother's "Survival Spirit". May it reach you and inspire you!

The Survival Spirit: I am a Breast Cancer Survivor - By Betty Orapeleng

Having been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 was like a hurricane in my life. From the moment I got the news, to the ongoing tests and treatments, it was a whirlwind through the medical system, I was scared, anxious, stressed and insomniac. When the dust settled, I found myself in the middle of limbo land. I tried to get back to the swing of things and move on, well the rest of my life was trying to find a way to a new normal. I needed to figure out what I can do in my everyday life to reduce the risk of ever seeing that cancer again. To look at my life and say “What was going on in my life before my diagnosis that may have played a role in putting me at risk? Was my life full of stress and hurt? Was I overweight? Was I eating all the wrong stuff…… I needed to know what I did that I needed to change because God knows I don’t want this to happen again.

While there likely isn’t one thing that you did to cause the cancer, there are things you can do to live your healthy life moving forward – as a Survivor. Once your doctor tells you that you have breast cancer – you can’t hear anything else…….. a powerful statement – “You have breast cancer” – your life changes with a snap of a finger. When I came to my normal senses, I began to have a unique blend of insight as to how best I could maintain wellness again beyond breast cancer….The Spirit of Survival strengthened. I always knew that healing is God’s will. So I started to say “why this wrestling” then the ceasefire state in my body began to develop. Cancer and I, have established a truce state in my body where we co-exist. I learned new ways of handling predicaments and tribulations, understanding that God may permit problems you are facing in life for the benefit they might bring such as to direct you (Proverbs 20vs 30), inspect you (James 1vs 2-3), correct you (Psalm 119vs 71-72), protect you (Genesis 50vs20), and perfect you (Romans 5vs 3-4).

I was intrigued and inspired by one article from one doctor who compares cancer to weeds as it crowds out good crops and plants. It comes as a result of unhealthy soil that compromised by stress, robbed of nutrients, contaminated by chemicals plus its further strained by negative life style habits. We should be evaluating multiple areas of our lives; quality of sleep, stress factors, food intake, weight and amount of exercise……………the root causes that may have contributed to the development of cancer in each individual.

In view of all these experiences, I looked inside myself for strength, knowing that Greater one lives in me, in every cell of my blood, in every bone of my body and in every fiber of my being. There are always some flat and stormy days, and that is okay…I always say to myself….IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL. Thanking my strong family support, -  my children, my husband and siblings, as they are a very strong, sound support structure – having people you can talk to, who understand what it is like living with a monster, relieves the burden of feeling alone. Sharing with others in a similar position also helps nip out the thorn that has deepened into your heart, soul and body. Taking responsibility for, and owning your physical and emotional wellbeing is hugely liberating and empowering. With God All things are possible The word of God in Mark 11:22 “ Jesus said to them, Believe in God” AMEN…………

Watch Betty's story here on Youtube: Click Here

Suicide: Dispelling the Myths and Changing the Conversation!

Warning: This blog contains material about suicide which may be triggering to some readers.

“Suicide” is one of the last remaining taboo topics in an age when nothing no longer seem off limits. Not many want to openly talk about it ‘just in case it may put thoughts of suicide in people’s mind’ they may say. However the reality is that suicide touches the lives of many people and has devastating impact on family, friends, colleagues and community. Many people take their own lives every day in Australia and around the world. In 2013, about 6 people died by suicide every day around Australia, that is around 2,500 people who took their own lives. Approximately 75% of those who died by suicide were males and 25% females in 2013. Women are however 4 times more likely to attempt suicide with hospital data for the 2008-2009 financial year indicating that 62% of those who were hospitalised due to self-harm were women.

These statistics are incredibly sobering and highlights the need to break down stigma attached to this taboo subject. Suicide and suicidal ideation is a reality for many people every single day. Just recently on social media (Facebook) I have been witnessing a number of viral posts about suicide, one of them that struck the cord with me is this one below;

“Many people think that a suicide attempt is a selfish move because the person just does not care about the people left behind. I can tell you that when a person gets to that point, they truly believe that their loved ones will be much better off with them gone. This is mental illness not selfishness. TRUTH: Depression is a terrible disease and seems relentless. A lot of us have been close to that edge, or dealt with family members in a crisis, and some have lost friends and loved ones. Let's look out for each other and stop sweeping mental illness under the rug. If I don't see your name, I'll understand. May I ask my family and friends wherever you might be, to kindly copy and paste this status for one hour to give a moment of support to all those who have family problems, health struggles, job issues, worries of any kind and just need to know that someone cares. Do it for all of us, for nobody is immune. Hope to see this on the walls of all my family and friends just for moral support. I know some will!!! I did it for a friend and you can too. You have to copy and paste this one, no sharing. Thank you” (Author Unknown)

I have seen many friends sharing this above statement on their walls.  This highlights the power of social media in breaking down the walls on these sensitive topics such as suicide and mental illness. A very welcomed change! However there are still a number of myths associated with suicide and the discussion around it can quickly get hijacked by those who are misinformed about the topic which can have devastating impact on those bereaved by suicide. The viral post above touches on one of the most common myths associated with suicide which labels victim of suicide as “selfish, not caring etc.” This labeling of the person who has died by suicide as selfish or not caring fails to take to account the fact that research has consistently shown a strong link between suicide and depression, with 90% of the people who die by suicide having an existing mental illness or substance abuse problem at the time of their death.

There are many more myths about suicide, here are some of the most common:

Myth: People who talk about suicide don’t actually do it

Fact: Many people who complete the act of suicide spend considerable time prior to the act, talking about it

Myth: Asking a person who is suicidal whether they are thinking of taking their own life will make them do it

Fact:  By giving the  person who is suicidal permission to discuss their feelings, is often the best opportunity to make them aware that somebody cares about their life and give them hope for life.

Myth: Only certain types of people commit suicide

Fact: Suicidal thoughts and actions can affect anyone from any socio-economic group, religious or racial background or age

Myth: Suicidal people want to die

Fact:   People who are suicidal just want to end the intense emotional and/or physical pain they are experiencing

 This clearly highlights the need for more public awareness about suicide. We need to have the capacity to identify signs of symptoms of a developing mental health issue such as depression and be able to respond to a crisis situation such as someone thinking of suicide. How do you appropriately provide support needed for someone who finds the courage to tell you that they are thinking of taking their own life? How do you give someone hope for life who life has ran them into a rut and they see taking their own lives as the only way to make the hurt stop? How do you support those who are left bereaved by suicide?

Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. It is important to talk about it so we can understand how to prevent it.

Join us at our next Mental Health First Training on the 6th – 7th November, 2015 in Brisbane as we discuss about what you can do to support someone in a crisis situation such as having suicidal thoughts and behaviours as well as understand the signs and symptoms of common mental health issues and what you can do to help. Help us break the stigma associated with mental health illness so we are able to help ourselves, families, colleagues and community.

This could be one of the most important decisions you may ever undertake, to learn an important life skill that will not only help you, but more importantly someone in need close to you.

Book here

I look forward to seeing you at the training!


If this topic has caused any concerns for you or someone you know, please call the following helplines

Lifeline Australia                         13 11 14

Suicide Call Back Service           1300 659 467

Kids Helpline                               1800 55 1800

MensLine Australia                    1300 78 99 78


Looking for support and advice, call beyond blue - 1300 22 4636


Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS National) - 131 450

Are You a Character Builder or Character Destroyer?

I recently had to confront a very painful past, a past that I thought was so buried safe under layers of self-preservation and sanity, a past that I had chosen to let go, or so I thought! Somehow this person had found a shovel and had begun to dig so deep until exposing the layers and revealing what I thought was a healed wound. Immediately the scab was removed, it left a wound so raw that it felt like it had been bursting to come up in the open for a long time. ‘How dare she?’ like a wounded lion I roared!

You see some things just hurt beyond measure, a pain so deep you feel like you are falling into a bottomless pit. The worst of it all is when you thought you have managed to climb out of the hole then someone takes the liberty to shove you right back in. Human beings are incredibly capable of deep emotions and feelings of empathy, love for one another, courage, peace etc. The emotions that have sustained us for generations and made us evolve into one of the most intelligent species there is. However this capacity has also revealed ability to hurt, to hate, to destroy. Experiencing this dark side of human capacity recently left me completely drained, confused, angry. I was confronted with the questions I had laboured for years throughout my university studies in psychology and behaviour management to answer; Why do people behave the way they do?

You may say to me, being hurt is part of life. But does that mean it is something we have to inflict on others or absorb submissively when it is maliciously directed our way? Something we need to tolerate? I don’t think so. Who gives anyone the right to take away the joyous feelings and peace of another? One thing that was certain about this terrible experience was that it reminded me of my capacity to let the wounds heal and the incredible ability to forgive the hurt of the past. Those who know me well would have heard me using the phrase ‘Turning Wounds into Wisdom’. There is nothing powerful than using the experience of the past and deciding to change your today and your tomorrow. Some things happen to us when we least expect them, it is how we choose to deal with them that determines our character.

The advent of social media has forever changed our lives and the way we engage with others and whilst so many positives have come from this revolution, it has also brought out the very worst in some of us. Gossip and bullying has to an extent always been part of a dark undercurrent of society but nowadays, faceless trolls spew poisonous vitriol to complete strangers and yes sometimes ‘friends’ and colleagues also. All under the cover of anonymity - a sign they have become oblivious it seems to the hurt they cause or perhaps even worse, that they have become ‘disconnected’ from real society and have lost the very essence of humanity – compassion, empathy, friendship, nurturing and supporting.

So today my friends, I ask you this question, are you a character builder or a character destroyer?