TAFE NSW Wollongong hosts Living Libraries for Mental Health Awareness event

Erin Plunkett (left) and Caitlin Kozman at Friday's 'Living Libraries' event in Wollongong. Picture: Adam McLean
Erin Plunkett (left) and Caitlin Kozman at Friday's 'Living Libraries' event in Wollongong. Picture: Adam McLean

Living ‘books’ were able to share their stories as part of an event that launched Mental Health Month. 

A ‘Living Libraries for Mental Health Awareness’ event took place at Flourish Wollongong on Friday.

Mental Health Month takes place throughout October.

TAFE NSW Wollongong Diploma of Community Services students had made contact with people with lived experience of mental illness, and worked with them to develop their ‘story’. 

Participants on Friday could ‘borrow’ a living person, sitting down with the ‘book’ to learn about their life experiences.

During recent months, 18-year-old Tarrawanna student Erin Plunkett worked with one of the living ‘books’, Caitlin Kozman, to help present her story. 

The pair hadn’t met previously. 

“My story is based around being quite suicidal and depressed when I was a child, and how that impacted me growing into a 20-year-old who then having started having manic episodes,” Berkeley’s Ms Kozman, 28, said. 

“I was suicidal for a period of 10 years… I wanted to talk about how art has impacted on my recovery journey.”

Ms Kozman primarily does performance art, but also enjoys art-forms such as photography and painting. 

“It really helped empower me, and helped me express myself.

“It helped me communicate when I maybe wasn’t verbally able to communicate. 

“I would still be able to create a piece of art that people who knew me could look at it and go, ‘she’s feeling like this, she needs this’. They would be able to interpret that.”

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Ms Kozman is now a Mental Health Peer Work student at TAFE, plans to exhibit her artwork and has a part-time job as a support worker. 

Ms Kozman said she was currently “in recovery”.

“Recovery is a very non-linear journey, and I might get sick again,” she said. 

“But I’ve got a lot of supports in place in order for that to not happen, and I know myself a lot better.”

Ms Kozman said Ms Plunkett had been vital in helping her relate her story, saying “tears were definitely shed” during the process. 

“Having someone to sound it off, and also find out the points that impacted them was important to me," Ms Kozman said. 

“Some of your story, although it might be really important to me personally, it doesn’t impact the story in a positive way. 

“I wanted to tell my story in a positive way because I have moved past these things.”

Ms Plunkett said learning about Ms Kozman’s story had inspired her.

“She’s come so far..  I can’t imagine myself in her shoes when I was that age,” she said.