Andrea McKinley is a firm believer in the power of lived experience.
She was one year into motherhood following the birth of her first child when she began spiralling into a state of anxiety that eventually led to her reaching out for help.
Fast forward seven years since post-natal anxiety reared its head and the now mother-of-three says being honest about her struggles with parenthood has helped other mums feel less alone.
Andrea is the founder of the Kindness Collective Barossa Valley, a not-for-profit group of local mums with a shared passion for helping others navigate the tough years of parenthood.
The group’s nine members, all of who have mental health first aid training and police checks, meet one-on-one with local mothers to simply listen and offer guidance towards professional support services.
“We’re not trying to replace any other profession or be counsellors we are just trying to connect, listen confidentially and say, ‘this is hard. I’ve been there, you’re not alone and it’s normal’,” Andrea says.
“We then try to direct them towards support and follow up with a phone call a couple of days later. A lot of the time it’s about making them aware of some of the wonderful local services that are available and also breaking down the stigma of asking for help.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic may have halted Kindness Collective’s ability to offer face-to-face support, it hasn’t stopped the group from doing its part to ease isolation pressure for mums in the early stages of parenthood.
Through the generosity of Barossa charity Kind Hearted Kitchen, Andrea has been leaving frozen meals on local families’ doorsteps to bring a smile and some convenience to those who might need a little extra support.
Kindness Collective was born through Andrea’s own struggles with post-natal anxiety when her daughter was a year old.
She had never experienced mental health issues before, but had equipped herself with many parenting books that had highlighted the symptoms of post-natal depression.
Andrea says she felt an increasing state of panic, was constantly on edge, had trouble sleeping and was quick to respond in anger.
She finally sought help from a GP who referred her to a psychologist.
“I was a bit wary of seeing a psychologist because I didn’t know what it entailed, but she was very understanding and gave me some really straightforward practical advice and solutions for getting more support where I needed it,” she says.
“I got through all of that tough time and then found out I was having twins. I thought ‘oh, dear, I wonder if this is going to happen again’.”
It did happen again and Andrea fell into the grasp of anxiety once more.
This time it was worse and she was prescribed antidepressants to ease her anxiety. She also began seeing another mental health professional, Angaston psychologist Dr Jodie Marshall.
“It was pretty dark, but I got through it. When my twin boys were about two, life was starting to feel so much better. I had one of my last appointments with Jodie and felt like I had learnt so much,” Andrea says.
“I had all this new information and I wanted to help other mums.”
With the support of Jodie Marshall, Andrea formed the Kindness Collective Barossa, gathering together nine mums who had defied some of motherhood’s toughest battles.
The psychologist is still a mentor to the group.
Andrea says a diverse range of mothers have engaged with Kindness Collective since its launch on International Women’s Day in March, 2018.
Most connections have come from word of mouth, while several have come from the group’s association with the local child and family health service.
Andrea says she prefers to take an honest and open approach to motherhood’s challenges by not sugar coating the struggles.
“I’m not saying ‘hey, look at me and all is great’. I’m saying ‘look at me, all is great but it hasn’t always been’,” she says.
“I don’t want to make things look easy. I want to be honest – things change, things grow and it’s not always going to be tough.
“We are hoping to provide some hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
This is story is part of Solstice Media’s Regional Showcase series and awards program. Each week we will bring our readers regional news stories that matter as well as some inspirational tales of individuals and communities doing what country people do best – having a go.
If you have a tale to tell or know of one, get in touch at South Australian Regional Showcase.
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