by Grant J Everett
The value of having a job goes beyond just earning money. Being gainfully employed is something to take pride in and plays a key role in helping somebody to recover from mental health issues. Mihaela Stanculescu, the Team Leader of Prestige Packing at West Ryde, spoke to Panorama about this.
Mihaela has the firm belief that even if you were filthy rich to the point where you’d never need to lift a finger again, you’d still have to work. Work isn’t just a simple case of production, like something done by mindless honeybees in a hive. You aren’t defined by what you are, but by what you do. Employment is a massive part of belonging to society, of understanding your purpose in this world and where you fit in.
“I think that many of the business services we offer are of a great benefit to the workers,” said Mihaela. “Before coming to work at West Ryde, some people feel very lost. Becoming separated from the regimented life offered in hospitals can be jarring. Here, they can learn who they are outside of an institution.”
When somebody comes to work in one of the assorted employment centres offered by RichmondPRA, it’s almost guaranteed that they’ve had a recent experience with the mental health system, possibly for a span of months or even years. Being a part of the system means every part of your day is planned out in advance like you’re in the army: the timing of medications, meals, smokes, access to your room and even when and where you’re allowed to sleep are all covered by a massive stack of rules (hint: don’t sleep on the floor, nurses hate that). Sadly, admission to a psychiatric ward can often be accompanied by losing friends, loved ones and careers on top of the stress of the mental health issue itself. Mihaela has seen this happen far too often.
“The average age of an employee at West Ryde Prestige Packing is around thirty-five, so a lot of them had built some kind of life before the emergence of their illness. Working here at West Ryde can reconnect them with that lost life. Work is definitely one way to recovery.”
As mental illness doesn’t discriminate, the age, sex and race of a person is pretty much all-inclusive from every segment of society. Each subgroup has its own particular challenges, however.
“Most of us learn through experience. I get employees to do all sorts of jobs around the place, even if they doubt they can manage it. You don’t need special training to stack pallets, for instance, so I just tell them to go get the pallet jack and learn!”
Mihaela is one of those lucky people out there who genuinely enjoys her job.
“I love my business service, but I’m not a baby-sitter! Recovery in a work environment takes effort and time, but is much more effective than simply being involved with a social club. Here at West Ryde we give people responsibilities and value what they have to say. I’m actually happy when my employees speak up because that makes it easy to know what’s on their minds.”
Despite the many freedoms offered to her workers, don’t assume that Mihaela tolerates anarchy: she expects certain standards from people who attend West Ryde.
“When people decide not to come into work for whatever reason, I expect them to let me know. It’s a basic courtesy you’ll always have as an employee, whether here or anywhere else. I’m not that interested in excuses from people, just so long as they don’t disappear. People will worry if you just vanish for weeks at a time.”
Mihaela knows that clashes can happen. But even conflict can serve as a learning experience.
“When employees get into conflicts with one another, I tell them to go have a break and pull themselves together. You’d assume that just separating people is the obvious solution, but it isn’t. I tell the employees we don’t have to love each other, but we do have to work together, so show some professionalism, guys!”
Avoiding all stress in life isn’t a good solution in the long term because you need to learn how to manage hardships. In addition to developing essential people skills, Mihaela also encourages her workers to show initiative and creativity.
“I’m very busy, so I have to delegate things a lot. To make this work I give the employees as much control as I think they can manage. Often, it’s just a matter of common sense. We’re all adults, so there’s no need to put every little decision through me or a supervisor, but some people are reluctant to make choices in the off chance of problems. I give people guidance, but I need my workers to show some initiative for things to run smoothly. I’d prefer that workers figure things out for themselves rather than being led along by the hand all day. Everybody makes mistakes, so I let people work out their own way of doing things, even if they stumble a little from time to time.”
Sometimes it’s hard to appreciate what goes on in a place like West Ryde if you haven’t actually worked there. Fortunately, Mihaela isn’t alone in running things: she credits her manager, Neil Clark, for helping it all be possible and also wanted to give a big “thanks” to her previous manager, Mohammed Alkhub.
The core of RichmondPRA is made up of a large population of people with a lived experience of mental health issues. We offer many services for people at all levels of functioning, ranging from basic processing work to further training and, hopefully, open employment for those who want to achieve more.
Comments from employees
“It’s great when you’ve done a job and you see it in the shops. We packed them! It happened to me recently with a job we did for Father’s Day.”
“You learn teamwork, experience social inclusion and how to relate to people.”
Living with mental health issues? Looking for a job? OstaraPRA can help! Call the team on:
1300 334 497
Our Disability Employment Service locations are as follows:
Suite 5, Level 2, 224 George Street, LIVERPOOL NSW 2170,
PH 9393 9360
Fax 9602 9727
Level 2, Suite 205, 304-318 Kingsway, Caringbah NSW 2229
PH 9393 9134
Fax 9531 7612
Suite 1, Level 4, 159-161 Redfern St Redfern NSW 2016
PH 9393 9220
FAX 9698 3516
First Floor Office 26, 188-192 Beardy Street, Armidale NSW 2350
PH 0423 566 623
Fax 6771 3812