At her lowest, Rose Clifford didn't care if she died.
The bright, articulate, very busy 25-year-old has just been named the Young Canberra Citizen of the Year for 2020 for her work in mental health education and for also, along the way, serving as a strong and compassionate role model for other young people.
The former St Mary MacKillop College student works at the Australian National University as a psychology tutor, volunteers at organisations including Lifeline and Mental Illness Education ACT and is completing a PhD in psychology at the ANU.
Children, Youth and Families Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith praised Rose for her work promoting and implementing mental health and resilience-based programs for young people aged five to 25, as well as he work helping to develop and deliver mental health education programs in the ACT reaching more than 6400 individuals.
"Rose is an exceptional role model for young people in the Canberra community and a champion for social consciousness and community service," Ms Stephen-Smith said.
But just a few years ago, while at university and being bullied by former friends, Rose was in the grip of anorexia nervosa, using her body to try to control the thoughts in her head that she wasn't good enough. She restricted her diet and excessively exercised. Her weight dropped to 45 kilograms and the haemoglobin levels in her blood were so low that doctors wondered how she could still walk, talk and breathe.
"I can remember a time when someone asked me, 'Do you want to die? Because that's where you're heading'. And my response was, 'I don't care'. Genuinely, in that moment, I didn't care if I lived or died," she said.
Seeing someone at, you know, age 13 stand in front of me and say, 'Hey, I have anxiety and this is what it feels like and this is how I cope with it and I'm still a successful person', it might have actually given me the information I needed to do something about it then.
Rose said she felt alone in her illness when she was younger because she didn't actually recognise anything was wrong with her mental health. The anorexia was at its height from the ages of 19 to 21.
"I'm just a person who puts a tremendous amount of pressure on myself," she said.
"You talk to my parents and all they've ever wanted was for me to try my best. So ... all this pressure to be perfect and be the best, came out of me.
"It was the culmination of unrecognised anxiety which started to bubble and the added pressure of university and then, on top of that, during all that stress, two of my best friends just cut me out of their lives completely. And they didn't just cut me out, they actively bullied me. So that got to me in a way that I started to think 'what was wrong with me and what did I need to fix'. For me, that was my physical appearance and my weight."
The only child of loving, supportive parents, Rose says she now has the eating disorder under control. "In remission", is how she describes it, because it never really goes away.
"I was just born to pressure myself to be the best," she said.
Therapy and medical treatment helped her. Out the other side, Rose wanted to show others there was another way and to help them acknowledge their own mental health difficulties.
"For me, it was just knowing about what could have helped me," she said.
"Seeing someone at, you know, age 13 stand in front of me and say, 'Hey, I have anxiety and this is what it feels like and this is how I cope with it and I'm still a successful person', it might have actually given me the information I needed to do something about it then. I look back at it now and realise my anxiety getting to a point that I could not handle was the reason I fell into an eating disorder. So very preventable, had I known or had help earlier."
Rose said she was frustrated that most people in our fast-paced society did not take the time, even 10 or 20 minutes, to stop and talk to someone and find out what was troubling them.
"Unfortunately, for some people, that is the difference between them getting out of the hole they are in or staying there," she said.
She said she was happy to share her story if it encouraged someone else to speak up and ask for help.
"I am confident enough to talk about this stuff. I'm at a point where it doesn't faze me. A lot of people never get to that point, and that's OK with them as well. But I guess I have the ability to do that and knowing how much good that could do, why not do it?"
Rose moved to Canberra in 2005 from Newcastle with her parents, both working in defence. She started year 5 at Holy Family Primary School in Gowrie.
Fifteen years later, she was shocked to be named the Young Canberra Citizen for 2020.
"It was just such a privilege and an honour to win that award, " she said.
"And for me, yes, I'm proud of the work I've done and what I've done for myself. But, more than anything, the award is for everybody in the mental health sector who is doing the hard work.
"Everybody who has had the confidence to speak up and share their experience with somebody else. Because mental health, it's a community endeavour."