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Art of Resilience

Rural mental health initiative reveals the art of resilience

13 Apr 2022


From droughts and bushfires to floods and a pandemic, Sonia Cox, Rural Mental Health Coordinator with Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District’s Lithgow Community Mental Health Service, has been busier than ever helping communities find strength and resilience in the face of disaster, including through some highly creative methods.

Sonia runs the Rural Adversity Mental Health Program (RAMHP) throughout the greater Lithgow region and is one of twenty coordinators based across regional, rural and remote NSW.

Recently, Sonia worked with renowned Australian artist John Moran to facilitate a mural painting workshop for bushfire affected communities, including those of Capertee, Running Stream, Clarence/Dargan and Wolgan Valley.

The communities came together in Portland to create a series of works which address the tragedy, loss, hope and resilience that came from the devastating Black Summer bushfires of 2019-2020.

“We didn’t give the participants any specific instructions about what their works should depict, but just told them to go for it,” says Sonia. “Yet everyone chose to show aspects of what the bushfires had done to their communities.”

The workshop follows on from a similar initiative, ‘Regeneration with Fire’, for which bushfire affected communities worked under the guidance of esteemed sculptor Harrie Fasher to create a series of sculptures in bronze.

“Participants were able to talk to people from other communities about their experiences, sharing their trauma,” says Sonia. “There were some tears along the way, but by the end of the day everyone commented on how healing the process had been.”

Art of Resilience

Through events like these, Sonia is able to engage closely with people facing adversity, helping facilitate their access to professional and ongoing mental health support.

“I’m a born and bred local, so the community knows that I have lived the same stories and I’m not going anywhere - that helps build trust and engagement,” says Sonia. “I’ve worked in community health and services in Lithgow for over 30 years, and being able to help my community through good and bad is immensely rewarding.”

As part of her role with the Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District, Sonia can refer the people she meets to a range of local health services. This includes a local ‘farm gate’ counsellor, a highly specialised role initially introduced to help prevent suicides in drought affected parts of the state.

“We’re lucky enough to have a clinical psychologist, Sara Ahmed, as our farm gate counsellor. Like me, she’s also part of the Lithgow Community Health team and can provide direct support for people who are doing it tough,” says Sonia.

The results of both workshops, sculptures and murals, will be on display at The Foundations in Portland until the 17th of April coinciding with their Big Easter Weekend event.

The RAHMP program is funded by the NSW Ministry of Health.

For mental health support, call the 24-hour Mental Health Line on 1800 011 511 or contact the Lithgow Community Mental Health Service direct on 6350 2555 during business hours.