TEACHING MENTAL FITNESS THROUGH PHOTOGRAPHY
FOUNDER OF THE UNFRAMED PROJECT
NOT ALL CLASSROOMS HAVE FOUR WALLS
Hello there, I am Sandra, an Intensive Care nurse and a kind, caring human. My purpose has always been to help people. In 2017, my life changed when I met a young girl in deep distress. From that moment I knew that my other purpose in life was to help save young lives and this is why I created the Unframed Project. This is my story...
When I met 'Chloe'...
In March 2017, I met a 16 year old young lady who had self harmed multiple times and had spent much of her childhood in mental health units. I met "Chloe" while on night shift in the emergency department. I sat with Chloe as she cried and listened to the reasons why she self harmed. Chloe told me that I was the first person she could really talk to.
At the end of my shift, I left Chloe a letter on her bed while she slept. In the letter I reminded Chloe that she was someone even when she felt like no-one. I told Chloe that she was not broken, that sometimes life challenges are overwhelming but it's also important to ask for help and distract yourself from negative thoughts. I asked Chloe to restart doing the things that brought her joy - swimming, playing the guitar and singing. Some weeks later, I reunited with Chloe and she told me that she read my letter every day and that I saved her life that night.
A little kindness...
I thought if an act of kindness could save one life, what else could I do? I share this story not for my ego, but to let you know that sometimes you just don't know what someone is going through. I felt helpless that night. I had no idea that simply listening and writing a letter would be life changing for a young person. After that night shift, I was determined to find a way to help teenagers and young people navigate difficult times and help them discover their worth in a world that is not always kind to them.
I started this project because suicide should not be a part of anyone's life plan, especially that of a child or young person. I have witnessed the heartbreak of suicide far too many times while working in ICU. Suicide has also unfortunately touched my life through the loss of a work colleague, a relative and a friend. My goal is to inspire human potential by keeping conversations real and providing mental health education in a fun, interactive way, allowing young people to improve their mental fitness and break the stigma of seeking help.
From grief to hope...
I have experienced loss in my life in many forms. The most profound was experiencing the loss of my partner in a car accident many years ago and the depths of grief that followed. I got through these sad times with help and support from friends and family, travelling to new places and focussing on doing the very things that brought me joy and stillness amidst the chaos. It was during these moments of darkness that I discovered photography. I love portrait photography and am fascinated by people's stories as much as their features.
I use photography to teach young people about mental health because I found it to be of great solace for me during the difficult times of my life. I would head out and just shoot, observe life around me and even though there were a lot of bad shots, it just didn't bother me. I was relaxed, having fun and was able to forget about everything going on in my head for a while. It also enabled me to slow down, process my emotions and express how I felt when I could not find the words.
I discovered a way to combine my passion for photography to help teach positive mental health strategies and launched the Unframed Project in 2019. I have extensive training in Youth Mental Health and 20 years experience as a nurse. I spent the last 3 years working with Indigenous youth in the Kimberley which has enabled me to grow and refine the project.
I couldn't have done this without the support of family and friends and the scholarships I have received from Harvey Norman, Layne Beachley Aim For The Stars Foundation, Country Women's Association & the Commercial Travellers Association. I am forever grateful for receiving these funds and 100% has been spent on developing and expanding the project. I am also thankful to the Broome and Kimberley community who have enabled me to deliver workshops to their students.
Open road, open heart ....
A Sydney girl at heart, I grew up in Perth and have lived and worked in Australia and Oxford, UK as a Registered Nurse. Most recently, I worked at Broome Hospital in the Emergency and High Dependancy Units. I currently work as an Intensive Care nurse and continue to deliver mental fitness workshops at primary and secondary schools. Since 2016, I have volunteered with Open Heart International. I travel to Tanzania for 3 weeks every November with an amazing team of Australian surgeons, doctors, nurses and health professionals to provide care to adults and children who have undergone lifesaving heart surgery. It is my ultimate career goal and the non-negotiable part of my life that truly allows me to give back to a profession that I absolutely love.
My dream is to expand the project beyond WA and take the message of 'you matter' to youth on the East coast. However, plans are in place to ensure the Project continues in the Kimberley. Every life matters, and in a fear driven, chaotic world young people need help now more than ever.
With gratitude, love and light,
Founder, The Unframed Project
Registered Nurse, Curtin University, Perth
Graduate Certificate of Suicide Prevention & Youth Self Harm Minimisation (2019), University of Melbourne
Graduate Certificate Critical Care Nursing, Australian College of Nursing, Sydney
Youth Mental Health First Aid (2020)
Good Grief Facilitator (2020)
Harvey Norman Grant (2019)
Country Women's Association / Commercial Travellers Association Postgraduate Scholarship (2018)
Layne Beachley Aim For the Stars Scholarship (2018)