Mental health website for people with intellectual disability created with help of those with lived


Fiona McKenzie has spent much of her life proving people wrong.

The Sydney woman, who lives with an intellectual disability, has at times felt excluded, but she's always figured out how to take the power back.

"They say you can't do certain things because of your disability and you know you can do them," she said.

"I get out there and I prove them wrong."

The 45-year-old became depressed after years of being teased and called names.

But as she got older, she started working and got involved with disability advocacy groups.

She became more confident about confronting discrimination.

"I spoke out because I felt like I needed to take control because otherwise it would have kept happening to me," she said."I also didn't want that happening to anyone else." Fiona McKenzie became more confident about confronting discrimination. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)Ms McKenzie said seeking support wasn't easy, especially online.

"Going on to a website when you have a disability can be confronting because you don't know what the language is going to be like and the pictures need to also reflect what the message is conveying in the words," she said.

"It's hard to navigate, you don't know where to find what you want, the spacing is not right and the colours might be too in your face." Fiona McKenzie was excluded, leaving her feeling depressed. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)Making mental health easier to understand

Ms McKenzie has been working with the Black Dog Institute and experts from the University of New South Wales to develop an accessible website called Healthy Mind, to support people living with intellectual disability manage their mental wellbeing. The institute's senior project officer, Chloe Heck, said this was a group with high mental health needs. Chloe Heck from the Black Dog Institute sought advice from Fiona McKenzie when creating the website. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)"


Research tells us that people with an intellectual disability are more likely to suffer common mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression than the general population," she said.

"But they also have many barriers to accessing appropriate mental health services and there are also issues such as communication challenges."

The website contains easy-to-understand language as well as audio and pictures to take users through step-by-step activities.

The content includes information on identifying unhelpful thinking, deep breathing techniques and strategies for relaxing and managing anxiety. Fiona McKenzie says getting support has not always been easy. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)


Ms Heck said the website was unique because people with lived experience were involved in every aspect of its development.

"We went out and asked people living with an intellectual disability what they wanted in a website and what they wanted it to look like," she said.

"Web-based mental health programs have the potential to mitigate some of the barriers to accessing appropriate services and even though there are a huge range of them out there, none until now have ever specifically been designed for people with intellectual disability." Intellectual disabilities still stigmatised

Figures show almost 470,000 Australians live with an intellectual disability and about half will experience mental health conditions.

Clinical psychologist Peter Baldwin said having an intellectual disability was still highly stigmatised and society had a long way to go to understand how to provide support.

"There's a lot of frustration, fear and sadness that comes with having an intellectual disability and not having things necessarily built for you," he said."Having an intellectual disability can make it difficult for you to go and order food, engage in community or see the doctor, and the support is just not always there."

But he's confident the Healthy Mind website will help turn that around. Fiona McKenzie helped create the website so others in her position would feel more supported. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)"Some clinicians don't feel like they've got the training to be able to provide the mental health services that people with intellectual disability really deserve," he said.

"Belonging is a big part of our mental health and when we have those constant cues that we don't necessarily belong from the community including the health system … that's why we took the time to get the views of people with lived experience when creating this tool." Ms McKenzie said the website would be a critical resource.

"For people with a disability, especially intellectual, you need to be able to find things easily and not have to go through loads of information that's not suited to you," she said. Fiona McKenzie says everyone has the right to get the help they need to stay fit and healthy. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)"It could mean they might otherwise spiral even further into depression and they could lose focus or not have the courage to speak up and say I need help."

"Everyone has the right to be helped, to get fit and healthy and to just know that when things go wrong there is a website you can go to."

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