From Struggle to Strength: The Power of Lived Experience

August 05, 2021

Claudia is a global mental health advocacy leader whose passion for mental health was inspired by having personal experience living with anxiety and OCD. After undergoing treatment, Claudia chose to pursue a career in mental health. She is the Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Global Mental Health Peer Network (“GMHPN”). She manages GMHPN’s youth-related activities and programs and is co-ordinator and facilitator for youth collaboration with other mental health organizations. She co-authored a paper titled “Perspectives: persons with lived experience with mental health conditions in service delivery, development, and leadership” which was published online on 12 May 2021 by Cambridge University Press.

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In 2015, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder (type 2), and my life rapidly turned upside down, and it was ugly. I was hospitalized twice for my mental health struggles and at the second instance my treating psychiatrist unfortunately immigrated, and I had to find someone new that I could trust, which in itself was difficult.

In 2016, I met my now psychiatrist, and things quickly made a turn for the best. My diagnosis was changed to anxiety and OCD, and my medication too had changed. I learned to adapt to the new normal and found solace in my support system. In hindsight and by talking with my mother particularly about my early schooling days, we realized how the anxiety had followed me like a dark shadow for many years, from childhood days to early adolescence and ultimately to adult years.

But after taking the right steps and correctly following my treatment and recovery plan, I too had made a choice; a choice to get up and speak out about my diagnosis and its impact on my home and work life. The world needs to know that mental illness does not discriminate and that in fact, we are all vulnerable to its reality.

My mental health journey ignited a passion within me that continues to prove energetic and growing. With great help and mentorship from renowned founder and CEO of the Global Mental Health Peer Network (“GMHPN”), Ms. Charlene Sunkel, I soldiered through and grew in strength as an individual and an advocacy leader.

My involvement with the GMHPN began before its official launch in 2018. I watched from behind the scenes as Ms. Sunkel’s vision of the GMHPN expanded. She took me under her wing and exposed me to events and discussions, and I was elected Chairperson of the Board of Management. One year later, I was offered the role of Deputy CEO. This is what GMHPN does for people, it empowers, strengthens, and catalyzes the voices of persons with lived experience worldwide. Its goal is to cultivate a new generation of global lived experience leaders by empowering and developing them to drive change and transformation in the global mental health sector.

My message to you, the reader, is that you are not your diagnosis, it is merely a part of who you are. Therefore, do not be defined by your diagnosis. You are unique and have the right to be treated equally and fairly. If you wish to join our wonderful organization and represent your home country in all things mental health-related, please reach out via our website-

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