Lived experience panel
Our lived experience panel includes a variety of speakers with lived experience and those with family members with lived experience of healing mental illness with psychedelic medicine.
Steve is a New Zealander who lived in Sydney before relocating to Amsterdam. He’s a Chief Technology Officer working in software development. As someone with Complex-PTSD since the age of nineteen, he pursued all conventional options for treatment within the health system but found that talk therapy was re-traumatising and antidepressants exacerbated his dissociative symptoms. In 2020, after reading the research results of MAPS’ clinical trials for treating PTSD with MDMA and similar studies with psilocybin for depression by Imperial College London, John Hopkins Medicine and Harvard Medical, he decided to undertake psychedelic-assisted therapy with MDMA. Over two sessions, he experienced a life-changing resolution of his childhood trauma and a full cessation of the debilitating PTSD symptoms that he had carried for 34 years. He no longer meets the diagnostic criteria for PTSD and has become an impassioned advocate for making these powerful healing life-saving medicines available to other sufferers.
Marjane is a trauma-informed addictions and mental health counsellor with over 7 year’s experience in spiritual healing practices and ancestral plant medicines.
Marjane grew up in France, completing a degree in Biology there, and then her Masters in Australia. Marjane undertook training as a trauma informed counsellor and has a strong understanding of the power of plants and medicinal fungi. She strongly believes in the power of psychedelic-assisted therapy for to help save lives.
Marjane has her own unique lived experiences of trauma, PTSD and anxiety and is now an active member of Mind Medicine Australia’s Melbourne Chapter, strongly advocating for urgent reform in Australia to enable these important plant medicines to be used in a clinical setting to help those who are suffering with a range of mental illnesses.
Vanessa Bortolin is a retired accountant, mother to a teenage daughter and widow to her beautiful husband of 30 years, Franco, who she lost two years ago to suicide after his 3-year battle with treatment-resistant clinical depression.
Vanessa had the foresight to begin documenting, via an excel spreadsheet, medication dosage increments and their side effects (total 19 different antidepressant/anti-psychotic drugs), treatments administered (total 96 ECT’s and 24 TMS’s), the 9 hospitalisations (4 involuntarily sectioned under mental health due to suicide risk), and the various professors of psychiatry seen, including the Black Dog institute. Vanessa hoped to access psychedelic therapies for Franco. This was his last hope.
Vanessa was in a financial position to engage weekly sessions with a psychiatrist, psychologist and personal trainer. The couple exhausted every resource offered by Australia’s mental healthcare system. Unfortunately, many out there suffering today are still doing it alone and/or those around them are not afforded the same resources. As such, Vanessa sits on this panel to support the carers and to give a voice to those who are compassionately giving all they can to keep their loved one and/or patient here on this earth. Franco’s legacy stands as a sobering reminder that even if you do have access to the relevant resources, recovery is never guaranteed. Vanessa continues to advocate for the equitable access of psychedelic-assisted therapies and will see this mission through so that Franco’s battle has not gone in vain.
Glen spent 7 ½ years serving in the British airborne forces and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010/2011 to Helmand province as part of the counter IED task force.
He took part in the biggest counter IED op in Afghan history safely clearing and returning a large village back to locals. This tour did not come easy as his team suffered 2 casualties in an IED blast 15 days into our tour. As soldiers, they stop that emotion and carry on with the job and the rest of the tour.
Glen suffered PTSD through lockdown 11/12 years later. Working with a therapist and using brain scans, he microdosed psilocybin to help improve. Glen’s brain scans were phenomenal; he felt free, clear and regained focus again.
Glen is now the director of an NFT project called Flesh of the Gods. His aim is to create a global peak performance hub for the community and support the research into psychedelic treatment and help veterans with PTSD and all mental health issues.
Catherine Deveny has been a comedian, writer and speaker for 28 years.
She’s the author of ten books and the creator of the enormously successful Gunnas Writing Masterclass.
Deveny published over 1000 columns with The Age newspaper, has appeared on Q&A five times and appeared in the Emmy Award Winning SBS documentary ‘Go Back To Where You Came From’.
Deveny is dyslexic and almost failed HSC English with 51%. These days her work appears on final year 12 English exams.
She’s a proud feminist, atheist, and commuter cyclist. She also has bipolar disorder and many of her loved ones suffer and manage mental health issues.
Simone is currently the CEO for Storytowns a national podcast and tourism tech company. Voted top 50 Business Woman for 2020. She is a successful entrepreneur and CEO, who for 13+ years founded and led an award winning wholesale distribution company with 50 staff and six sites across Australia. She has also recently worked in senior management for World Vision Australia as the Head of social enterprise. Simone was responsible for the start up and international scaling of Change Coffee that contributed all sales to the global economic empowerment of women. Simone is a consultant business lecturer for Melbourne university and Monash. She is also a passionate Mental Health Advocate, business mentor and national speaker on Spiritual Leadership, having studied with the Dalai Lama in his monastery in India and living with indigenous tribes of the Amazon. A teacher of meditation, yoga and Buddhist philosophy, Simone runs ‘Feel Good Retreats’ Australia wide. Simone also holds a degree in Psychology, and is currently a fellow of the Centre of Sustainable leadership.
Baden Hicks spent the early part of his career as a boilermaker/welder as well as working in the Dive industry. He is now a qualified Alcohol and Other Drugs Peer Support Worker. Vital to this role, is his 20 years lived experience of drug addiction and more than 20 years of mental health issues which he describes as ‘being caught in a revolving door of rehabs, psyche wards, homelessness, and many failed attempts to over come these issues.’
It wasn’t until he found the right therapy and started medicating with psychedelics – that he could begin his journey of recovery, and slowly rebuild his once successful life. He is now passionate about supporting others in their own recovery journeys as well as speaking out about the stigma of addiction and mental health and the benefits psychedelics can have on these, the lack of adequate treatment for those seeking help, and a criminal justice system that fails to recognise addiction as the chronic illness he believes it to be, and Laws around drugs that do more harm than good.
Van is first and foremost a heart-led man who lives through an intention of self-responsibility.
He was gifted the opportunity to live a childhood dream as a professional Rugby Union player in Australia and abroad over 13 years, and as a professional coach over 7 years nationally.
Van worked in a theatre support role for Orthopaedics and devices for three years on retirement and fell passionately into Permaculture organic farming and its synergistic relationship with nature and cycles.
Navigating childhood experience around poverty, scarcity, lack and abuse, and as an adult through physical injuries, the loss of a child, sister and brother, he has felt divinely guided through his polarising experiences towards a place of radical love and acceptance.
Van’s life has been deeply shaped with what was an initial curiosity with health and well-being related to performance that drew him to natural modalities that include breathwork, ayahuasca, psilocybin, CBD, THC and cacao. He credits these treatments with changing the course of his life.
Today, Van is blessed as the custodian of 2 beautiful children and an opportunity to share all these modalities through service in Rugby Union, breathwork facilitation, ceremonial guide, stress and performance mentor and regenerative agriculture farmer.
Never shy of a challenge, John Lee has been a pioneering entrepreneur since his early years as a paper boy in Dunedin, New Zealand in the 1960’s and 70’s.
Rising into the public eye as esteemed Founder of Cutting Edge Post, one of Australia’s
largest and most awarded post production companies and working on over 50 US and Australian movies and over 700 episodes of scripted drama television as well as many thousands of television commercials, John Lee is renowned as a skilled Technical Director and entrepreneur who has pursued a colourful and dynamic career.
After Johns daughter Freyja committed Suicide and John was spiralling downhill, he went through 3 sessions of psychedelic therapy. The Therapy not only helped significantly with dealing with Freyja it significantly changing his life for the better in so many ways including giving up alcohol.
“The psychedelic therapy showed me how to not only let go of the past but embrace the learnings from it and apply it to the present and help create a better and far more rewarding future and spiritually I talk to Freyja regularly.”
Tony Mantz aka “Jack the Bear” has been in the music industry since 1981 working in all facets of it , including being a radio announcer on MMM FM Melbourne for the duration of the 90’s.
He has had an interest in psychedelics since first hearing about them on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast back in 2009.
In Jan 2020 he had the most transformative experience of his life through an intense weekend of carefully administered and facilitated ceremonies with an experienced practitioner using 5MEO DmT
This medicine has helped Tony overcome his early childhood trauma.
He now lives his life free of addiction, allowed him to heal the long standing rift with his children, become more aware of his thoughts and be a more empathetic and compassionate person.
It is this journey Tony wishes to share in the hope of inspiring others.
Annie is an educator with a wide range of experiences including classroom teaching K-12, Special Education and Student Wellbeing. She was a Principal for over 15 years, worked as an Educational Consultant and lectured at a leading Australian university. Annie has travelled extensively, working in Hong Kong, the UK and Middle East and has a special interest in Gender Equity, Social Justice and Women in Leadership. Annie has been volunteering in Thailand and Cambodia for a number of years, working to support educators and establish schools.
Annie’s life has been deeply impacted by her daughter who suffers from PTSD and depression following a childhood trauma. For 15 years as a mother, she has journeyed with her daughter in the painful search for treatment. She has seen the devastation of the illness on her daughter and her family and is now an advocate for significant change in the way Australia cares for young people who suffer with mental health issues. Annie also offers support to other mothers who are trying to come to terms with mental illness in their families. She is lobbying for a new approach to Mental Health admissions in public hospitals and is a strong advocate for the legal and ethical rights of those with mental health issues.
From her extensive study, Annie believes that MDMA assisted therapy gives hope to her daughter and is astounded that this treatment is not available in Australia. She is aware that with current treatment in Australia her daughter has only a 5% chance of recovery. Annie will continue to challenge the government, Health authorities and regulatory bodies when she believes their decision-making to be biased, misinformed and regressive.
Holly has a background in national security and is a former member of the intelligence community. She holds a Bachelor of Politics and International Relations. She has suffered from depression and suicidal ideation her whole life, and since 2017, Complex PTSD. Holly is also autistic and has ADHD.
Holly tried all available conventional treatment options – various psychiatric medications and trauma therapies – none of them were helpful, if anything, potentially more harmful.
After a suicide attempt in 2018, Holly travelled to South America seeking alternative treatment at a traditional shamanic plant medicine retreat in Peru.
Holly’s experiences were profound and life changing. After her ceremonies her nightmares had lessened significantly, suicidal ideation had disappeared, and she no longer felt scared and anxious for no reason.
After returning from Peru, Holly discovered art therapy. She is now an enthusiastic fluid artist, teaching others the value of art therapy.
Dr Deb Roberts
Deb has had a life-long relationship with mental (ill) health yet been able to navigate a fulfilling existence through various means. Three years ago she undertook 9 bilateral electroconvulsive therapy treatments for debilitating anxiety and depression. That and a combination of getting back on medicine after attempting a short stint of non-pharmaceuticals enabled her to return to life and contribute to family, friends and society.
She has had two family members who have ended their life seeing no treatment pathway forward. One was her older sister who had tried countless medicine combinations, therapies and facilities over 30 years.
Deb’s pathway is to continue a life worth living and advocate for treatment options including the use of psychedelics.
‘Dr Deb Roberts Wellbeing’ www.debroberts.com.au grew out of a deep longing to share lived experience in various capacities through yoga, meditation, speaking and writing services to individuals, groups and corporates. The business has attracted interest from international corporations including L’Oréal, Australian brands such as Endota and professional sporting groups including Melbourne Storm and Essendon Football Club among others.
Kerry is a nurse of 44 years, mother of four and grandmother to nine, specialising in palliative care. She had suffered depression, addictions and suicidal ideation all her life. “Trauma by omission” Gabor Mate calls it. Forced adoption of her first child and death of her father during her pregnancy at 16 escalated her mental health issues further including suicide attempts and hospitalisation. Every antidepressant, therapy, book, course and seminar failed and just left her feeling hopeless and wanting to die even though she was so blessed. At age 58 she had an opportunity to try DMT. It reset her brain and gave her joy, self-love and connection for the first time in her life. It’s not called the ‘God molecule’ for nothing. She is committed and passionate to helping others receive the benefits of psychedelic therapy in a safe environment and sees great potential for palliative care and end-of-life treatment as well.
Graeme was a farmer and earthmoving contractor for 35 years, until both he and Annette purchased Oztantra.com and this consolidated their Relationship & Sexuality counselling and workshop business.
Graeme has spent all of his life dealing with severe childhood trauma, starting from the moment he was born. (His mother suffered from untreated and undiagnosed Post Natal Depression, which controlled her. Sadly, in this place, she tried on numerous occasions to end his life. This created and left behind intense body-held trauma and terror that occurred before any cognitive memory. Even though he tried, on several occasions to ask questions to his parents, everything was vehemently denied, with very blunt and shaming responses. These intense emotions controlled every aspect of his life, yet his parents espoused how loved and lucky he was. This left massive doubts, shame, insecurities and confusion on top of already significant trauma.
MDMA sessions, combined with Psilocybin have introduced a very bright light at the end of a 64 year long tunnel of darkness. These sessions have enabled Graeme to not only connect with but to also accept, understand and release the body-held trauma in a safe way. Having quality integration practises has been essential in dealing with his trauma release. In his last mental health check with his GP, PTSD didn’t show up.
For Graeme, this has added a whole new level of understanding in dealing with complex PTSD and the darkness of depression. His partner of 20 years, Annette is also dealing with childhood trauma at the hands of her father, and during both of their individual processes, they shared sessions together, which added another level of healing of deep seated wounding and mistrust in intimate relationships with their opposite sex partner.
As a result of this seemingly impossibility of healing, Graeme has become an advocate of psychedelic-assisted trauma depression therapy.
Dr Brian Walker MLC
Brian Follett Walker (born 5 September 1954) is an Australian politician and medical practitioner. At the 2021 Western Australian state election, Walker was elected to the Western Australian Legislative Council as a Legalise Cannabis WA member for the East Metropolitan Region. His term commenced on 24 May 2021.
Walker was born in Malaysia to Scottish parents, and was educated at Scotch College, Perth, prior to studying medicine at the University of Dundee. Since graduating, he has since practised medicine in Germany, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and Hong Kong, returning to Perth in 2008, to set up a specialist GP practice in the Perth Hills.
Walker has a longstanding commitment to holistic wellness, which continues to strongly influence his approach to both medicine and politics.
Emily Unity is a lived and living experience professional who is passionate about advocating for the human rights of all people, regardless of background, identity, or intersectionality.
Emily is currently the Lived Experience Lead for the Royal Children’s Hospital, on the Committees of Management for VMIAC (State Consumer Peak) and Centre for Multicultural Youth, on the Boards of Midsumma and Intertwine, and advisory committees for UNICEF, Headspace, Beyond Blue, CYDA, Orygen, and many more.
For their work, Emily was recently awarded Mental Health Advocate of the Year, Youth of the Year, Disability Leadership Award, Innovation in Protecting Children Award, Children and Youth Empowerment Award, Community Leadership Award, 25 Under 25, 30 Under 30, and inducted in the first cohort of the Multicultural Honor Roll.
Emily grounds their work in their intersectional experiences of mental health, disability, LGBTQIA+, homelessness, neurodiversity, and being a young carer from a refugee and migrant background.
Blake is one of Australia’s leading lifestyle and performance coaches. Having spent the last 17 years finessing his unique and innovative coaching style, Blake provides his clients with the skills to propel and prosper in their lives.
The awakening transformations and fast growth of Blake’s clients has seen him work with thousands of people from a vast array of backgrounds. Forever challenging the status quo and society’s norms, Blake’s non-judgemental and open minded approach allows him to delve into areas many are afraid of which brings with it wisdom, methods and learnings to go with his radically honest approach.
I’ve been keen to be involved with MMA and love the work they do because of my strong passion for mental illness and for the impact it has on people’s wellbeing.
I’ve had a family history of mental illness and addiction and as a coach working with a number of clients struggling with mental health I’m always looking for ways to help them improve and fast track their results.