Emma Paino is a celebrated peer support worker who has used her lived experience to help others in the mental health sector. After having both lived and professional experience in this area, Emma has developed a unique perspective, working to reframe mental illness using language that supports the individual. Woven Threads was lucky enough to work with Emma in our mental health series, Stories from Within.
Growing up, Emma struggled to know how to engage with the world around her. As an adopted child, she had difficulty developing a healthy attachment process, and often sought validation from external sources. After a tumultuous start to life, Emma was unfortunately hospitalised for two weeks in her early 20s after attempting suicide. It was in the hospital ward that she met a peer support worker for the first time. The peer support worker gave Emma valuable advice that changed her outlook on her mental health. Now, Emma says “I don’t see it as an illness within myself, I see it as an injury from circumstances around me”. After being inspired by the valuable work that her peer support worker did, Emma decided to pursue this career as well.
Although Emma says that she loves talking about herself, her job requires her to tell and retell her story to strangers. This can be damaging, because it leaves other people with power over your story. In order to overcome this, Emma has been inspired to retake control of her story, and tell it in a way that doesn’t focus solely on her diagnoses or most difficult times, but instead on the way that she has overcome her personal battles. In fact, Emma encourages everyone to write their own narratives.
Talking with Emma, one cannot help but feel excited about the future of mental health care. After careful research and consideration, she has developed a new outlook on mental health. Instead of looking at it through an illness-based lens, she sees mental health through a trauma-based lens. What this does is remove the blame from the individual, and places it instead on the social structures operating around them. With this framework, we can prioritise creating a society that seeks to empower all individuals.
Emma talks more about her story in her beautifully animated Stories from Within episode. It was wonderful to gain insight into her journey, and we thank her for her participation in our documentary series. To read more about Emma’s approach to the mental health sector, check out our blog with her here.