BEHIND Amber Foy’s beautiful blonde hair, 100-watt smile and intelligence is a young girl battling an incredibly misunderstood mental illness.
Diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder a few years ago, it means that on any given day, at any time, the 19-year-old can overreact to something completely trivial. She has complete meltdowns and can inflict physical injuries on herself.
“The best way I can describe it is absolute chaos,” she said.
“For a while I feel like I’m holding on to my emotions and sense of self and reality.
“After a while I lose grip of it entirely; I can’t string two thoughts together, I can’t articulate how I’m feeling to anyone, I can’t focus.
“It’s a case of screaming, thrashing about and pulling my hair out … I have been suicidal.”
Amber is not alone. It is estimated that 68,000 South Australians are living with BPD.
According to the state Liberal Party, it costs our economy $300 million every year and is why — if elected in March — they will spend $10 million on BPD, including dedicated training for medical and nursing staff as well as outpatient therapeutic services.
Outgoing Mental Health Minister Leesa Vlahos last week signed off on a $1.2 million plan towards helping sufferers.
No-one who knows what it’s like to live with BPD more than Amber.
“When I’m talking like this to you, I think a lot of people don’t believe it,” she said.
“They say ‘I can’t imagine you doing that, hitting your head against the wall and starving yourself and God knows what else’.
“People can’t stop and think: It’s the illness.”
Frustratingly, there’s no cure and it’s hard to diagnose and medicate.
Amber has difficulties holding down friendships, going to university and just living everyday life. As well as BPD, she has battled depression and anxiety.
She wants more awareness about BPD to break down the stigma of the “more curly mental illnesses”.
“A few years ago, depression was quite taboo — there were advertisements everywhere with Beyond Blue and I’d like to see more of that (with BPD),” Amber said.
“What I would like to say to anyone, not just about BPD but about mental illness in general, even if you don’t think it applies to you, it definitely does.
“Just because you don’t have it or it’s not in your locality doesn’t mean it doesn’t apply to you.”
Amber, a budding singer/songwriter, is about to embark on a specialised 26-week course to help her develop mechanisms on how to cope when things get tough.
“Whatever I’m feeling at the time — happy or sad — the best therapy is to get my guitar and pen it all down on paper and get a song of it (her feelings),” she said.
Her mum, Mandy Foy, of Aberfoyle Park, agrees more needs to be done to help sufferers.
“It’s a really difficult situation to present to an ED, to be left in a waiting room for hours on end makes the situation worse,” she said.
“We need a specialist centre where people are educated and trained around the disorder — they can communicate with sufferers in a way that keeps them calm and helps them calm down.”
While she loves her daughter, Ms Foy said living with Amber was “absolutely exhausting”.
“You can’t reason with her — her thinking is very black and white,” she said.
“She either idolises you or she hates you with venomous poison — it can change in the blink of an eye.”