TheMHS The Mental Health Service Conference 2016

Fay, Kim and Ros kicking butt.jpg

Ros Christopoulos, Fay Jackson and Kim Jones in New Zealand

Using peer work to keep people at the core of everything we do

Auckland, New Zealand was the host of the 2016 TheMHS Winter Conference. Officially known as People: Authenticity starts in the heart, the purpose of this theme was to focus on the wide range of people who compose our mental health system: the people who guide and shape our services, those who deliver the services, those who access the services, as well as the general community.

The four days contained a tonne of presentations on many diverse topics. Generally, any given presentation will go for about twenty minutes followed by ten minutes of discussion where the audience can ask questions or raise relevant issues. Over 250 papers were submitted this year, and there really was something for everyone. As always, Flourish Australia sent representatives from many segments of our organisation to the conference, and the key presentation we hosted – Why not a Peer Worker?! One Year On – was a direct sequel to last year’s Why Not A Peer Worker?

Like Australia, New Zealand has seen major shifts in the last twenty years when it comes to how people access mental health services and get help for addiction issues. A big component of this shift is the rise of peer work. As the public’s view of mental health issues becomes less clouded by ignorance and stigma over time, every part of our system is constantly adapting and rethinking its approach. No matter what role we play in the mental health sector, we all need to act with integrity and be authentic in how we care for the people who access our services. We must also take whatever action is necessary to prevent people from falling through the cracks.

Flourish takes the stage

The long list of Flourish Australia reps who submitted papers to the conference include Peter Farrugia, Peer Workforce Program Manager, Evan Fulton, Manager, Nicolle Richards, Mental Health Worker, Mark Orr, Chief Information Officer, Glenys Mulley, Mental Health Worker, and Alicia Moran, Aboriginal Social and Emotional Wellbeing Trainee. The full scope of their presentations is too wide to include here, but the core theme was to spell out the many ways that Flourish Australia services remain person-centered.

For instance, how we use a consumer-led Community Advisory Council to actively encourage the people who access our services to speak up about what’s on their minds. Other channels of consumer feedback we’ve established includes our Communities of Practice, recovery forums and regular focus groups, as well as utilising surveys and service evaluations. These many channels make it clear that we want people to know they can talk to us, that we will listen, and that we’ll continue to provide all the necessary support that communities and individuals require.

In their paper, Why not a Peer Worker?! One Year On, Kim Jones (Project Officer, Inclusion) and Fay Jackson (General Manager, Inclusion at Flourish Australia, and also a Deputy Commissioner with the NSW Mental Health Commission) spoke about some of the many things that Flourish Australia offers the people who access our services: our growing Peer Workforce, the progressive way we communicate, how we recruit and train new talent, and the future direction of the organisation itself. Kim and Fay both know firsthand how people with a lived experience of mental health issues can find revealing their experiences challenging, as such disclosure can leave them open to stigma and discrimination. Kim was able to share her own experiences while she was on stage:

“Now I realise my experience has enabled me to bring heart and authenticity to the workplace…being able to openly share my experience with depression and anxiety has helped others, as well as myself. I’m able to provide practical support, which can be rewarding for all involved.”

Fay spoke about the common challenges any large peer workforce will face, such as the prickly issue of professional boundaries, and the logistics of running a sizable peer workforce. She also highlighted how important it is that everyone understands what the correct definition of peer work actually is, which is why being able to clearly convey this knowledge through all levels of our organisation has become an important part of our culture.

Summing up

Our representatives demonstrated that the success of our ever-evolving strategies is illustrated by our constant growth, the increasing amount of support we are able to provide to families and carers, our reach into rural and remote communities, and our influence in advocating systemic mental health reform in this country. Flourish Australia aims to be a leader in supporting our peer workforce on many new frontiers, and our latest goals include Newcastle Hospital, various parts of the forensic system, and Family & Community Services.

Want to check out the “Why not a Peer Worker?” presentation from last year?