WHEN people ask her how she is, Irene Frances usually replies ‘terrific’. This is very different from where she had been for many years – at the bottom of a deep, dark pit out of which she thought she would never climb.
Having come from an abusive family, Irene was ill equipped for the challenges of life. In her late 40s – soon after commencing her social work studies – she was diagnosed with what is now known as Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, formerly dissociative identity disorder or multiple personality.
She was determined to overcome this complex disorder and went through fourteen years of intensive psychotherapy, with many admissions to a private psychiatric hospital, to achieve her goal of integration. During much of that time, Irene worked as a social worker in public mental health services.
As part of trying to make sense of what she had been through, Irene published her autobiography, Peace and Freedom are My Names. Her story provides invaluable insight into the development of a Complex PTSD, its impact upon the person experiencing it and their family, and the incredibly difficult struggle required to regain personal integration.
Irene believes her life is a testimony to God’s faithfulness and His loving presence in the midst of what seemed to be insurmountable challenges. ‘Without God, knowing He was with me through those harrowing years, I would never have come through,’ she said.
‘I also pay credit to the support of mental health professionals, most of whom were exemplary in their care.
‘Working in mental health services is not easy. I want staff to know that there are some very good outcomes for people they work with,’ Irene said.
Irene Frances spent her early years in Darwin before moving to Papua New Guinea as a young mother and eventually relocating to Brisbane. Coming from an abusive family, she was ill equipped for the challenges of life and eventually experienced serious emotional difficulties.
Irene’s life is a testimony to God’s faithfulness and His loving presence in the midst of what seemed to be insurmountable challenges.
After completing her secondary studies as a mature age student, Irene gained her Bachelor of Arts with majors in Journalism and Studies in Religion followed by her Bachelor of Social Work, both from the University of Queensland.
In her first year of social work studies, her mental health issues intensified and she was diagnosed with what is now called Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, dissociative identity disorder, formerly known as multiple personality. She was determined to overcome this complex disorder and went through fourteen years of intensive psychotherapy, with many admissions to a private psychiatric hospital, to achieve her goal of integration.
Irene’s journey into and out of madness instilled in her a passion to confront the stigma of mental illness, and to raise awareness in churches and in the community of the need to provide appropriate care and support for people whose lives are affected by mental illness.
Throughout her social work career, Irene worked primarily in mental health services before moving to Charleville in Outback Queensland. She returned to Brisbane in 2006, working in palliative care and mental health services until her retirement in March 2009. However, after being retired for five years she decided to resume her social work career and returned to Charleville where she worked until her final retirement in November 2016. She has since relocated to an Over 50s Active Lifestyle Resort in Logan Village south of Brisbane.
Her interests include freelance writing and public speaking, particularly to confront the stigma of mental illness, and to share her faith in God and His unfailing love.
Irene has three adult children and eight grandchildren. She plans to move to an Over 50s Active Lifestyle Resort south of Brisbane.
WRITING AND PUBLIC SPEAKING
Irene holds a Bachelor of Arts with majors in Journalism and Studies in Religion, and a Bachelor of Social Work. Her writing experience includes:
Peace and Freedom are My Names, autobiography
- Mental health articles –
- Mental Illness – A Personal Experience
- Behind the Scenes of Mental Health Services
- Editor, The Queensland Baptist
- ‘Research and Literary Assistant’, Garden City Christian Church
- Worked with several people to complete their memoirs
- Church correspondent for Brisbane newspapers
- News correspondent for the Australian Broadcasting Commission (now Corporation) and Papua New Guinea’s Post Courier
In her public speaking, Irene shares her story of God’s grace and ongoing presence in her life, and addresses the stigma of mental illness. She has spoken at a variety of venues:
- Chermside Uniting Church – Mental Health Week, 2010
- Women’s Aglow, Ipswich, 2010
- Master’ Social Work Students, University of Queensland, 2010
- Brisbane Women’s Prison
- St James’ Anglican Church – Wellington Point
- St George’s Anglican Church, youth group – Birkdale
- Rotary Community Mental Health Forums: Redlands, Port of Brisbane, Mt Gravatt
- Adult Mental Health Service: Coorparoo – staff
- Belmont Private Hospital – staff
- Mental Health Association of Queensland
- A Place to Belong – non-government mental health organisation
- Social work students – University of Queensland
In addition to speaking at community venues, Irene has been a guest on Family Radio’s Talking Life with Peter Janetzki (96.5FM), addressing mental health matters.