Lived experience leads the way
PARTICIPANTS in the innovative Lived Experience Project are set to change the future of mental health services now they have graduated.
Yesterday 25 North Coast students with a lived-experience of mental illnesses took part in an inspiring graduation ceremony at the Byron Bay Community Centre.
The students each achieved a Certificate IV in Community Services and Mental Health and are now ready to transition into employment as peer workers in mental health and community services.
After experiencing mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, post traumatic stress disorder and eating disorders, completing the long, hard journey of re-entering education and completing work-experience placements was a major achievement for participants.
For some of them, it had been more than 23 years since they had been in a classroom, and for others, it had been more than 20 years since they had held a job.
The Lived Experience Project prioritises the social inclusion of people with mental illness and celebrates the students' achievements in study and work.
One of the project's participants, Leisa Hoffmann, successfully sourced her dream job as a Mental Health Support Worker with On-Track Community Programs after spending six months as a student placement peer worker at Lismore Adult Mental Health Unit.
Because Leisa and the other peer support workers have a 'Lived Experience' of mental illness and recovery, they're able to genuinely empathise with those they are supporting.
Peer workers are living proof to those with mental illness and staff in mental health organisations that recovery from mental illness is possible.
"The Lived Experience Project has not only helped me gain a qualification in Community Services, it has given me the confidence to go back and work in places I had visited as a client when I was in the depths of depression," Lisa said.
"I no longer feel traumatised by my experiences, instead I have been empowered to take my Lived Experience, find a job and provide valuable support and advice to people going through similar situations to mine."
The Lived Experience project aims to train and empower people who have experienced mental health issues and provide them with the skills to become employed as Peer Workers within mental health organisations throughout the North Coast.
It focuses on showing that people with mental health issues can not only make a full recovery, but can then use their experiences to help others with their journey to become gainfully employed and reduce the burden on an under-resourced health system.
The Lived Experience Project is funded by the Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations under the Innovation fund. The Project is being delivered by the Northern Rivers Social Development Council in partnership with Commonwealth Rehabilitation Services Australia, On-Track Community Programs and ON-Q Human Resources.
The course has been funded by the NSW Department of Education and Communities - State Training Services and is being delivered by ACE North Coast Community Colleges at their Tweed and Lismore campuses.
Lived Experience Project Manager Gabrielle Le Bon from the social development council said peer workers are living proof that recovery from mental illness is possible.
"People who have a lived experience of mental ill-health and recovery can use their experiences to inspire hope," Ms LeBon said.
"They challenge stigma and ensure that our mental health services remain focused on recovery and solutions by being open to learning from, and being changed by service users."
Photo: Leisa Hoffman with mental health academic and visionary for change, Anthony Stratford from MIND Australia, LEP participant Gary Shalala Hudson, Meaghan Vosz and Tony Davies from NRSDC.