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The stepping stones of our past

Before becoming involved with MIFQ, life member Paul Heffernan went from feeling totally lost to finding his voice.

It was a voice that 30 years ago, resonated in a community that was characterised by a severe lack of understanding about schizophrenia and mental illness, and the people who found themselves in its grasp.

“Before I joined MIFQ I couldn’t see a way forward,” said Paul.

“Schizophrenia had ruined everything - I had a good job, a house, block of land and a car, and I lost the lot.”

“I needed support and I needed understanding, and through MIFQ I was inspired that there was life after schizophrenia.”

In the early years, MIFQ operated a social club and through this outlet, Paul really started to reconnect with other people.

The club was established in 1985 as an offshoot of a support group operating at the Southport branch and Paul became its first Treasurer.

Fellow MIFQ member, Clifford Braddon was its first President and other members included Adrian Bowler, Beth Murray, Richard Day, Tony Hodgeson, Bevan Leese, Larry Graham, Clive Roberts and Tony Garth. 

“It was really amazing to finally hear people speaking opening about their illness,” says Paul.

When Clifford Braddon was selected as the Queensland representative to report and consult with the National Consumer Advisory Group on Mental Health (NCAG), Paul Heffernan was named as his deputy, and that was his cue to search for acceptance further afield.

Funded by MIFQ, Clifford and Paul began visiting advocacy groups and rural communities, offering an insight into their illness.

Paul has also given talks to university psychology students, and for Lifeline counsellors, and like most MIFQ members he is unassuming about his efforts.

“Hopefully the talks we did helped people understand that we are just human beings with an illness.”

Paul also took part in a video made by social club members in 1990, called Schizophrenia in Focus.  Larry Graham was the Producer and Paul was the Production Manager.

“We received a $2000 grant to make the video, which featured members talking in a group about their experience,” said Paul.

“We held lots of production meetings, sorting out what questions we were going to ask and how we were going to answer them.”

Copies of the video were sent to hospitals around Queensland.

By 1993, MIFQ had well and truly settled into its permanent home in Arthur Street, Fortitude Valley, but thing were about to change direction.

MIFQ  was given funding to set up a facility at Coorparoo, under the Clubhouse model of rehabilitation – which was already established in the United States.

Paul was on the steering committee, and after lots of work the Clubhouse, called Stepping Stones, opened in September 1994. (It now operates autonomously)

The members and staff of a Clubhouse worked side-by-side to manage all of the operations.

 

“It gave us the opportunity to contribute in significant ways, and meaningful ways and went a long way to help rebuild confidence, self-esteem, social and even work skills,” said Paul.

“It’s very frightening when you become ill - you lose all of your confidence and become socially isolated – but at the social club, and then the Clubhouse, you could meet up with people going through the same thing and it gave you a sense of belonging.”