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My Awakening…

Here I was a successful entrepreneur living a millionaire lifestyle. I had made it! Or so I thought. But something was missing. I didn’t feel the happiness that I’d been promised by society. I felt lied too, that I’d been somehow tricked.  The success, I had valued and strived my whole life for, had left me empty and in a marriage that had died in the process. I don’t think anyone can describe the loss of a marriage. The loss of the family you had always wished for, the loss of everything you essentially knew, the look of despair in your children’s eyes, the dreams you had created together. Your combined friends, family and memories.  They all disappear. In the midst of all the trauma, change and never-ending tears something else dawns on you too.

I am now…alone.

In my aloneness, I grew afraid. The world had lost all meaning and I felt completely disconnected from everyone and everything. Nothing bought me joy and I was trapped in extreme suicidal ideations that left me unable to work and be social. My family was unable to understand me, and I was gradually losing all my friendships. Leaving me more disconnected and isolated. For 3 years I struggled through, tortured by my thoughts and grief. I went to every western Doctor and tried various medications that made my symptoms worse. Then I tried yogis, naturopaths, psychics, body somatic work, acupuncture, counselling, hypnosis and meditation. I even went vegan and moved to the beaches of Byron Bay. You name it, I did it. I was desperate!

Synchronistically, in a yoga class, I met a girl that had just come back from the Amazon and said she had been healed of her depression.  She told me that what I was experiencing, in shamanic terms, was what can only be described as a ‘dark night of the soul’ and that the mystics before me spoke of an experience that is likened to a deep spiritual depression or existential crisis that was necessary to live an authentic life.  They saw it as an initiation. A rebirth. A transformation from the old self into a profoundly liberated state and new way of being in the world. Could this explain my intense and prolonged suffering? The reason why I’d divorced, why I’d lost everything?  At last, I felt understood, I felt hope, I felt called into something greater.

Within 3 months, I was sitting in the Peruvian jungle at the feet of a renowned and very powerful shaman.

The Amazon is not an easy place to be. But It’s hauntingly beautiful with the most ancient lush green trees. The tallest I’ve ever seen. With beautiful hummingbirds and colourful butterflies that land on your arms. You are also dangerously aware that there’s anacondas, tarantulas and piranha around too. But I had nothing to lose, because I already felt dead. So what was there to be afraid of?

I was wrong.

I was living with an indigenous tribe in very poor conditions. The shaman spoke no English but was so welcoming and kind. He told me in Spanish that my spirit was very sick and my energies needed to be realigned. I had ceremonies in which he sung icaros (their magical songs) and gave me various plant medicines including Ayahuasca (the vine of the soul). The first night was one of the most frightening nights of my life. I was confronted with all my grief and trauma and challenged to find my power within it. I felt the shaman and medicine, training me to be strong, resilient and face all my fears. I’d had an initiation that was sacred and profound.  I felt new, clean, strong. Most importantly, I had been given the ability to dream again. I could actually see a future. I had direction, I had hope. I was ready to dream my new life into being.

But the greatest gift of all was that I wanted to live.

Words can’t describe the sense of freedom and possibilities that I now felt. I realised the key to my mental and spiritual health was the complete letting go of my old life, past, ancestral history, culture, trauma and subconscious programming.  It was more than a psychological healing though. I had awakened into something new. It was like choosing the red pill in the matrix.

“You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more”. Morpheus

I’d chosen a different path to others. I wanted the TRUTH. It was a far cry from Western medicine and taking a pill to fix things quickly.  I don’t believe in a happiness pill. There is no such thing. I’d worked hard for my mental health. I’d fought hard for my life. And it was all without a doubt for my 2 boys. I had to get well for them. The greatest loves of my life.

My way is not for everybody. I’d searched for my own truth, and worked out what was true for me. In the process, I was profoundly connected with something greater than myself. The realisation had dawned on me that I was never ……alone. It really was a divine journey that had been orchestrated by a divine force to lead me back to my authentic self, to bring me home.

How lucky am I, how blessed to have taken this path that others would traditionally interpret as a descent into mental illness. It was far from that!! I’d reconnected with life, humanity, my divine purpose. I guess it’s in times of crisis that we finally yield and discover who we really are.  I have a peaceful acceptance of my past now, as painful as it was, and I realise that nothing happened by accident. I see clearly now why I had to go through that suffering. I felt like a warrior returning from war into a bright, new world filled with possibilities.

On my return from the Amazon I worked for World Vision Australia as Head of Social Enterprise, which enabled me to economically empower women globally.  I was then voted in the top 50 Business People of the Year in Australia by Inside Business magazine for my contribution to humanity. I am currently CEO of a national organisation and a guest lecturer for Monash University. Most importantly I am a loving and present mum to my two gorgeous boys.

Big love Sim

A Magic Medicine Journey

Psychedelic Prism

I want to start with a snapshot of how I am possibly different from the average person. I don’t smoke or drink. Before this chapter of my life began, I’d never taken any drugs besides prescription medication (and those as rarely as possible). I live in Melbourne, the coffee capital of Australia, and don’t even drink it.

Yet today, my life revolves around psychedelic medicines – heavily stigmatised substances still illegal in most countries. This huge shift is likely confusing. However, my personal journey can hopefully provide a deeper understanding of why I co-founded Mind Medicine Australia (MMA), and how psychedelic-assisted therapy could change the face of mental health treatment.

Helping People find their Voice

Over the past two decades, I’ve founded 6 companies, 3 charities and am a Member of the Order of Australia. I’m a global speaker and an international soprano – performing both as a soloist and as part of a group and have released 12 albums.

Singing has always been a huge part of my life. This motivated me to create the charity Creativity Australia and social inclusion program, With One Voice. My mission was to bring together people from different backgrounds, generations, faiths, and cultures by forming social inclusion choirs that bring together ‘haves’ with ‘have-nots’. Singing together can help alleviate loneliness, depression, and social isolation. I explain this further in my recent TED talk, which has received over 100,000 views so far.

I’ve personally witnessed that helping people find their voice can unlock their full creative potential. Similarly, I also believe psychedelics have a monumental role in helping achieve this. I know they will allow me to scale this mission… but I’ll get back to that. First, I think it’s important to tell you about my own experiences with psychedelics.

From Sober to Psilocybin Seeker

Taking an illegal substance had never occurred to me until I stumbled across Michael Pollan’s article in The New Yorker titled ‘The Trip Treatment.’ Reading it not only made me aware of the current resurgence in psychedelic research but also helped me to understand how these ancient plant medicines were assisting people to heal from a host of mental health issues.

From that point on, my interest in trying these hallucinogenic plants began to grow. I had no idea what it was like to be drunk or out of control. Yet the majority of people expose themselves to these altered states on a regular basis. I wondered if perhaps I was missing out on an essential human experience. What could psychedelics teach me about who I am or who I could be? Through exploring my psyche, what unknown parts of myself and our cosmos could psychedelics grant me access to?

So, I recruited the support of my now-husband Peter, and set out on a quest to have a therapeutic experience with psilocybin mushrooms. Having sadly lost his father to suicide in his early teens, Peter was also interested in dealing with past traumas.

However, being able to do this in a safe and legal setting proved difficult. After first trying and failing to get into global trials for healthy patients, we were ultimately referred to a private therapist in the Netherlands, where the use of psychoactive truffles is legal. We ingested a large dose of psilohuasca – a combination of psilocin-containing fungi and Syrian Rue, a MAO inhibitor used to enhance and prolong the effects of a trip.

The Inner Journey

Fair warning – describing what it’s like when you take psychedelic substances is difficult. My first time was completely removed from anything I’d encountered before. Unless you’ve personally experienced it, there’s really no reference point for understanding what it’s like. However, I can tell you that from then on, my life veered off in a very different direction.

The combination of having never lost control before and hearing stereotypes around psychedelics, made me incredibly nervous. I believed that it was going to destroy my brain. Turns out, this is far from reality. What happened was one of the most meaningful experiences of both our lives.

Firstly, the medicine completely shot us into space and, at the same time, through the Earth, rivers and oceans. What initially overwhelmed me was this incredible sense of oneness.It was as if all boundaries dissolved and I was left with the sheer magnificence of our planet. The connectivity of everything was indescribable. I haven’t been able to eat meat or even step on an ant since.

Being confronted with personal pain is a common experience during a psychedelic trip. For myself, as the daughter and granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, I’ve lived with transgenerational trauma my whole life. I was faced with this horror during my experience and have undergone transformational healing as a result.

These realisations were profound, but it’s the deeper insights we gained about ourselves that have left a lasting impression. The self-development Peter and I dove into following that first overseas expedition was vital for us to really integrate our life-changing experience. These lessons were so powerful, we didn’t feel compelled to have another session for a whole year. Research shows that the psychedelic experience significantly decreases activity in the brain’s default mode network. However, it’s the work that’s achieved in subsequent integration that leads to lasting wisdom. Incorporating the experience into your life, is just as important as the experience itself.

The neurogenesis and increased neural plasticity created by the medicines is truly remarkable. It’s like hitting the reboot button on your brain’s computer and defragging the faulty drives. I’ve noticed my creativity has increased tremendously. I’m able to access more moments of flow and purity in my singing, public speaking and writing. I’ve also recognised real lifts in my energy and consciousness. I feel many neural pathways have reconnected for me, new ones have formed and missing parts of myself have been found.

Psilocybin and Placebo

Creating a Movement and Making a Difference

Fast forward a few years later and Peter and I now seek out a session every four to six months. We call it our reset button. Every time we work with these medicines, we get new downloads and join more dots. Not only have we woven psychedelics into our lives, but the immense value we’ve gained from these magical medicines is what inspired us to establish our fifth charity, Mind Medicine Australia in 2019. Whilst our other charities are helping thousands of people through women’s shelters, social inclusion choirs, educational programs, poverty alleviation and microfinance, we acknowledge that at the heart of any kind of social isolation or disadvantage lies mental illness.

Mental illness keeps a person isolated. Sufferers often deal with rigid, negative thought patterns and intense feelings of despair. Every day we get emails and calls from those who’ve tried medication or therapy and are at the end of the road. We need to treat the underlying cause if people are to genuinely heal and lead more meaningful lives.

Having celebrated our second anniversary in February 2021, MMA is focused on expanding the treatment paradigm available to specialist health practitioners to reduce Australia’s terrible mental health statistics, which are worsening because of the current and ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Of particular concern and pertinence are the high levels of mental illness, addiction, and suicide amongst the veteran, first responder and other marginalised population groups.

Before the pandemic, 1 in 5 Australians were experiencing some type of mental illness. 1 in 8 adults, 1 in 4 older people and 1 in 30 children (some as young as four) were estimated to be on anti-depressants. Their use across the country has risen by a massive 95% over the past 15 years. Still, mental health statistics continue to get worse, resulting in one of the highest rates of mental illness in the world. Recently, mental health experts announced that the COVID-19 crisis could lead to a 25% increase in suicide rates. Incidence of trauma, anxiety, depression and substance abuse are all accelerated by the pandemic.

Depression treatment methods haven’t substantially changed for decades and reversion rates are as high as 80% following medication. Side effects and withdrawal symptoms are common problems. Anti-depressants and psychotherapy lead to remission for less than 35% of suffers and the rates for PTSD are around 5%.

On the other hand, MDMA and psilocybin-assisted therapies are considered safe with remission rates of between 60-80% being achieved from over 150 current and recent trials. Evidence suggests psychedelics are low in toxicity, non-addictive, and show no signs of producing organ damage or neuropsychological side effects. These medicines are also proving to be very effective at treating various addictions. Practitioners describe them as ‘antibiotics for the mind’ due to their outstanding efficiency and short nature of treatment programs.

Research showing the benefits of these therapies are taking place at many of the world’s most prestigious universities including Johns Hopkins, Yale, UCLA, Harvard, Oxford and Imperial College London. Furthermore, these therapies are already legally available in the USA, Switzerland, Canada, Israel via Special Access Schemes. Some psychiatrists and prescribing physicians we work with have also recently received approvals for use of MDMA and psilocybin-assisted therapy for their treatment resistant patients via Australia’s SAS-B pathway.

Psilocybin-assisted therapy for depression and MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD have achieve “Breakthrough Therapy” designation from the FDA in the USA. This designation is only granted to medicines that could be vastly superior to existing treatments to fast-track the approval process. MDMA, which is in Phase 3 trials, is likely to be a prescribed treatment for PTSD in the USA within 18 months. There are also trials underway for the treatment of end-of-life depression and anxiety, alcohol and drug addiction, dementia, strokes, anorexia and other eating disorders, cluster headaches and chronic pain.

Scaling the Mission to Set People Free

In preparation, we need to ensure that practitioners are properly trained. Our Certificate in Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies commenced in January 2021. This is the first course of its kind in this field in the Southern Hemisphere and is being designed in collaboration with the world’s leading programs and features a Faculty of global leaders in this field. Both our intakes for 2021 are proving popular with practitioners including psychiatrists, psychologists, GPs, mental health nurses and social workers.

Mind Medicine Australia is in the process of establishing an Asia-Pacific Centre for Emerging Mental Health Therapies. Its main mission is to expand the mental illness treatment paradigm in Australia and boldly position Australia as a global leader in mental health innovation, with partnerships encompassing University, philanthropic, private industry, and government sectors. MMA is also a part-funder of the nation’s first psychedelic clinical trial, currently underway at Melbourne’s St Vincent’s Hospital. We are also currently planning a Major International Summit for 2021, attracted a great Board, Advisory Panel and have support from major players in the psychedelic space. These include pioneers Roland Griffiths from Johns Hopkins University, David Nutt and Robin Carhart-Harris from Imperial College London, Rick Doblin from MAPS and many others.

What psychedelic medicines provide is an extremely effective treatment option for medical professionals who are desperately seeking innovation in the way we treat mental illness. They can help us rediscover our connection to ourselves. We can’t love others unless we first love ourselves. Psychedelics used intentionally also have the potential to help us solve other serious challenges, such as environmental and political issues, homelessness, and domestic violence.

A great deal of pain and suffering could be alleviated by introducing genuine connection back into people’s lives. If the pandemic is teaching us anything, it’s that humans are social creatures, and losing that connection can drastically affect our health and wellbeing. My first mission was to heal through the power of music, and don’t get me wrong, I’m still very dedicated to doing this. Yet today, with MMA, we’re taking that mission and scaling it in a way I could’ve never imagined possible.

Tania de Jong AM

LL.B (Hons), GradDipMus

Tania de Jong AM is a trail-blazing Australian soprano, award-winning social entrepreneur, creative innovation catalyst, spiritual journey woman, storyteller and global speaker. Tania is one of Australia’s most successful female entrepreneurs and innovators developing 5 businesses and 3 charities including Creative Universe, Creativity Australia and With One Voice, Creative Innovation Global, Mind Medicine Australia, Dimension5, MTA Entertainment & Events, Pot-Pourri and The Song Room.

She works across the public, private, creative and community sectors and is passionate about mental health, innovation, diversity and inclusion.  Tania speaks and sings around the world as a soloist and with her group Pot-Pourri releasing twelve albums. She is Founder and Executive Producer of future-shaping events series, Creative Innovation Global.

She was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in June 2008. Tania was named in the 100 Women of Influence, the 100 Australian Most Influential Entrepreneurs and named as one of the 100 most influential people in psychedelics globally in 2021. Tania’s TED Talk ‘How Singing Together Changes The Brain’ has sparked international interest. Tania’s mission is to change the world, one voice at a time!

Mind Medicine Australia Celebrates 2-Year Anniversary

Second anniversary

 

This week Mind Medicine Australia turns two years old! In our two years, we have made remarkable progress in growing public awareness of Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy in Australia. We are already seeing a paradigm shift in the curiosity, acceptance and interest into the use of medicine-assisted therapy for depression, addiction, PTSD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anorexia and other mental and physical illnesses in our communities.

In order to help those who are suffering with mental illness we have focused on four key strategic areas. Please see our strategic objectives to build the ecosystem in Australia for these medicines here.

Strategy

What we have achieved in our two years with your support:

Awareness and Knowledge Building

Access to Medically Approved Therapy

Professional Development Program (Certificate in Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies)

Asia-Pacific Centre for Emerging Mental Health Therapies (CEMHT)

The progress we are making in public education was exemplified in several headline media articles including in the Australian Financial Review, The Australian, the Age, Herald Sun, The Saturday Paper and Vogue Australia and media interviews including with The Project, ABC and other stations.

Our primary focus over the next couple of years will be on psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy and MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, given their “Breakthrough Therapy Designation” with the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) in the United States and the strong clinical evidence that supports both their effectiveness and safety. We are also interested in developing other medicines to treat a variety of conditions.

Behind the scenes, we are working closely with key stakeholders to ensure that these therapies will be accessible and affordable to all Australians needing these treatments in medically-controlled environments, so that cost and geography doesn’t become a barrier.

In the last year, we have assembled a comprehensive leadership team with expertise in mental illness including psychology, neuroscience and pharmacology, non-profit development, business practices and networks, public health, events and educational development.

Mind Medicine Australia is also supported by an outstanding Board, Ambassadors and an Advisory Panel of over 60 local and international experts in medicine, psychiatry, psychology, pharmacology, research, science more broadly, ethics, law, policy, anthropology, business and therapeutic practices.

We are currently preparing for our International Summit on Psychedelic Therapies for Mental Illness to be held at the Sofitel in Melbourne this November. We have a global line-up of world leaders in medicine-assisted psychotherapies and other outstanding thought leaders on topics ranging from medicine and anthropology to neuroscience and ethics. We are now confirming financial, endorsing and media partners and would appreciate as much support as possible to produce a brilliant event.

Our much anticipated Certificate in Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies launched in January 2021. We are thrilled to welcome a wonderful group of GPs, psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists, mental health nurses, social workers, occupational therapists, addiction specialists and counsellors.

As we begin 2021, our vision and capacity continues to grow, as does the need to make medicine-assisted psychotherapy a legally available treatment through our medical system for the increasing number of individuals suffering as a result of the pandemic, environmental challenges and global trends which challenge social cohesiveness and social inclusion.

We ask for your continued and expanded support so that we can fund the path for psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy and MDMA-assisted psychotherapy to help treat the millions experiencing mental illness in Australia. This is personal for every one of us.

“Psychedelics are to the study of the mind what the microscope is to biology and the telescope is to astronomy.” – Dr Stanislav Grof

Enormous gratitude to all of our supporters, partners, Board, Ambassadors, Advisory Panel, Team, Chapters and volunteers.

This is a collective mission and we need all of you by our sides.

On behalf of Mind Medicine Australia

Peter Hunt AM, Chair & Tania de Jong AM, Executive Director

Tania de Jong AM

LL.B (Hons), GradDipMus

Tania de Jong AM is a trail-blazing Australian soprano, award-winning social entrepreneur, creative innovation catalyst, spiritual journey woman, storyteller and global speaker. Tania is one of Australia’s most successful female entrepreneurs and innovators developing 5 businesses and 3 charities including Creative Universe, Creativity Australia and With One Voice, Creative Innovation Global, Mind Medicine Australia, Dimension5, MTA Entertainment & Events, Pot-Pourri and The Song Room.

She works across the public, private, creative and community sectors and is passionate about mental health, innovation, diversity and inclusion.  Tania speaks and sings around the world as a soloist and with her group Pot-Pourri releasing twelve albums. She is Founder and Executive Producer of future-shaping events series, Creative Innovation Global.

She was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in June 2008. Tania was named in the 100 Women of Influence, the 100 Australian Most Influential Entrepreneurs and named as one of the 100 most influential people in psychedelics globally in 2021. Tania’s TED Talk ‘How Singing Together Changes The Brain’ has sparked international interest. Tania’s mission is to change the world, one voice at a time!

Peter Hunt AM

B.Com, LL.B

As an investment banker Peter Hunt AM advised local and multi-national companies and governments in Australia for nearly 35 years.  He co-founded and was Executive Chairman of one of Australia’s leading investment banking advisory firms, Caliburn Partnership (now called Greenhill Australia) and continued as Chairman of the Firm after its sale to Greenhill Inc in 2009. Peter was a member of the Advisory Panel of ASIC and chaired the Vincent Fairfax Family Office.

Peter is an active philanthropist involved in funding, developing and scaling social sector organisations which seek to create a better and fairer world.  He is Chairman of Mind Medicine Australia which he established with his wife, Tania de Jong, in 2018. He founded Women’s Community Shelter in 2011 and remains on the Board. He is Chairman of So They Can, Grameen Australia and Grameen Australia Philippines. Peter is a Director of Project Rozana and an Advisory Board member of the Monash Sustainable Development Institute. Peter also acts as a pro bono adviser to Creativity Australia. 

Peter was made a member of the General Division of the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2010 for services to the philanthropic sector.

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