Sharon Chisolm is the star of new SBS documentary How 'Mad' Are You? which chips away at the stigma surrounding mental health.
Sharon Chisolm is the star of new SBS documentary How 'Mad' Are You? which chips away at the stigma surrounding mental health. Jackson Finter

Mum's insight into her daily challenge

SHARON Chisholm is a Coffs Coast mother-of-two, loving wife and thriving businesswoman - a perfect picture of 'success'.

But appearances are only skin-deep. Sharon has a complex history of mental illness, having been diagnosed with anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder.

Now, Sharon is the star of new SBS documentary How 'Mad' Are You? which chips away at the stigma that pervades the topic of mental health.

The premise of the show asks a simple question: can we tell if a person is mentally ill by looking at them?

After receiving an email about the documentary last year, the local business coach said she went through a stringent process of tests and interviews before she was chosen from several hundred as one of ten participants.

Five of the participants chosen had been diagnosed with a mental illness, while the other five had not.

 

Sharon Chisolm (far right) is the star of new SBS documentary How 'Mad' Are You? which chips away at the stigma that pervades the topic of mental health.
Sharon Chisolm (far right) is the star of new SBS documentary How 'Mad' Are You? which chips away at the stigma that pervades the topic of mental health. Jackson Finter

A panel of three experts including a clinical psychologist, a psychiatrist and a senior mental health nurse all put their credentials on the line as they decided who has a diagnosis, and what, as the participants underwent a number of tests.

"The experience was phenomenal," Sharon said.

"During the week we were put through a series of tests and the experts watched the footage. We did things like a stand-up comedy routine, we built a raft, underwent memory tests.

"All of us went into it with the idea of reducing stigma, hoping to help people not feel alone. All I can say is the experts didn't get much right in the end - but that's the point."

Sharon grew up in England and moved to Coffs Harbour in 2005 with her husband, a local.

When she was around four, she began suffering from anxiety, particularly in social situations.

In her teen years, she was diagnosed with complex post traumatic stress disorder as a result of living with domestic violence.

And it was after the birth of her daughter in 2003 when Sharon was diagnosed with post-natal depression for which she was treated on-and-off for several years.

It was about three years ago when she said she received the correct diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

"It made so much sense. It was that missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle that explained all those ups and downs over the years," she said.

 

Sharon Chisolm is the star of new SBS documentary How 'Mad' Are You? which chips away at the stigma that pervades the topic of mental health.
Sharon Chisolm is the star of new SBS documentary How 'Mad' Are You? which chips away at the stigma that pervades the topic of mental health. Jackson Finter

Today Sharon runs her own online business where she coaches small business owners, particularly women, on issues including anxiety, self-worth and imposter syndrome.

She's also a lived-experience speaker for the Black Dog Institute and a mental health advocate.

"It's important to note that all of us on the show were stable when we filmed and that's not the big picture.

"Not everyone who lives with mental health issues can be stable. Some people never find medication that works for them and I think it's important that as a society we understand that and try to judge people a little less.

"Regardless of whether you have a mental health issue or not, everybody has something going on we don't know about.

"All of the participants were all so open and caring, we became a little family within the first day. We laughed and laughed so much. None of us were in it for that 15 minutes of fame, we were all there with the hope of helping even just one person to bring meaning and purpose to everything we've been through."

Watch How 'Mad' Are You? on SBS On Demand.

If you or anyone you know needs help:

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Beyondblue: 1300 22 4636

MensLine Australia: 1300 78 99 78

Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800

Or visit www.reachout.com



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