Terry Lynch is a radio show host and prolific poet penning his sixth collection.
Terry also spent five years at Sunnyside Hospital – the same hospital Kiwi writer Janet
Frame wrote about in her book An Angel At My
25 years later, Terry is an active advocate for mental health consumers in Canterbury,
and writes poetry as a way to help manage, and reduce prejudice against, experiences of
Terry believes his experiences with mental distress may have first been exacerbated at
“I was bullied a lot in my younger days. I was bullied from my secondary school days
until my first job at the freezing works.”
While working at the local freezing works, Terry found an outlet for his experiences with
mental distress – writing poetry. He was supported by his union to share his story with
“The Union secretary sponsored me to do a 15-minute speaking segment for the workers. I
Writing as a way through
During his freezing works career, Terry was admitted to Sunnyside Hospital after a
significant experience with mental distress.
“I was a forensic patient at age 45 after a manic episode. I spent five years there.”
While at Sunnyside, Terry found writing poetry helped him work through his recovery and
“Even through my illness, I still wrote poetry. If I was at Sunnyside and something bad
happened, I could always go back to the room and write about it.”
It was during this time that Terry met Linda Simpson, a former Canterbury District Health
Board consumer advisor. Linda was an inspiration to Terry and encouraged him to become
involved in advocacy for other consumers.
“When I was a patient at Sunnyside, Linda came to visit me and took a couple of my poems
to Auckland. She encouraged me to join the Canterbury District Health Board Consumer
Council. She was inspirational to a lot of people, me certainly.”
While at Sunnyside, Terry wrote his first short collection of poetry about his
experiences as a patient, entitled Shit In Your Eye.
He also joined the Consumer Council and later became a representative of the Richmond
Fellowship, a community support service for people living with serious mental illness.
Writing as a way to help others
Terry’s experiences at Sunnyside and working in consumer groups have given him a unique
insight into how he can help others in his community.
“When I was part of the Consumer Council, I would take consumers food gifts. Consumers
were more interested in appreciation and praise rather than policy. This made a big
impression on me.”
“My philosophy now is to work with other consumers to give praise. I think affection and
praise go a long way – they certainly did for me.”
Terry’s writing has helped shed light on his experiences in the forensic and mental
health systems. At Sunnyside, Terry published Shit In Your Eye (1999) and the
poetry collection Unforgiven Forensic (2003), which both spoke to his
experiences there. Three more books, radio plays and short stories have followed.
Terry is also heavily-involved in public projects that reduce prejudice against people
with mental distress.
He has performed his one-man Spoken Word poetry show, Mud, to more than 20
audiences across Australasia, and runs his own award-winning mental distress radio show,
Minds, which has just celebrated its 10th year. He hopes
that these efforts are reducing discrimination.
“Sometimes, as a consumer, people aren’t always that nice to me. Some consumers get used
to that. I like to think that, through my various projects, I am writing and sharing
stories for all consumers, so that they don’t have to face that prejudice anymore.”
''When I share stories on Calm Minds, I try to put a positive spin on what
people living with mental illness have achieved. If they are managing their illness or
if they are getting on with their lives, they are survivors. They are winners.''
Terry also contributes to a number of poetry groups and initiatives in his community. He
partnered with community rejuvenation organisation South Alive to produce a
poetry festival in primary schools – which received 300 entries in the first year. He is
also starting an anti-bullying poetry group for people who live with mental distress.
''Writing’s been a really good gift that I've always had. It's been a really good coping
mechanism and way to help other people who have trouble expressing themselves through
“I’ve accepted my pain by doing something with it. I’m not broken. I’ve found a cause –
working with consumers, writing poetry and encouraging them to write poetry so they can
work through their experiences, too.”
Photo credit: Southland Express