By Tanja Rac
ABOVE Left: Tanja relaxes on the bus, satisfied with how her work placement went PHOTO BY TANJA RAC . Top Right: The sitting room at Cranebrook. Bottom Right: One of the four bedrooms. It’s not like a hospital! PHOTOS BY WARREN HEGGARTY
By studying to become a Peer Worker, Tanja is learning how to use her lived experience of mental health issues to help others who are on a similar journey. This is her story.
I have been studying a Certificate IV in Mental Health (Peer Work) through the Mental Health Coordinating Council for over a year now. I want to use my life experiences to help other people, and this is the best way I can do that. Part of gaining the Certificate IV is doing some on-site work experience with a relevant organisation. I emailed a few service providers, and I ended up getting accepted to do my placement with Flourish Australia. They asked me where I wanted to do my work experience, and as Flourish Australia’s Cranebrook service wasn’t too far from where I lived, it was a good fit. Ash Kumar, the site manager was happy to support my placement which was for two days a week for four weeks.
Cranebrook is Part of the Resolve Program (see story ‘Resolve in Action’ in Panorama June 2018 pages 8-9). It services a very broad area, including Penrith, Windsor, Richmond, the Blue Mountains, and Lithgow. The team I worked with was pretty small, maybe eight people, six of them are peer workers. About twenty people regularly access the service.
On my first day at Cranebrook we drove up to Katoomba to visit some people. It’s a long way to travel, but it’s beautiful. The mountains are special to me, as I’ve gone to Blackheath several times with my mum for short holidays. I’ve also attended Christian conventions there in the past.
There is a bit of a problem with public transport because the bus to Cranebrook only comes half hourly or hourly depending on the day, but I always kept track to make sure I got there on time. Sometimes the staff members offered to pick me up from Penrith Station if they were on the way to see someone, which was very considerate of them.
Flourish Australia’s Cranebrook service is very new, having only opened in March 2018, and they help people who need more support than is usually on offer in the community. The main focus is supporting clients who would otherwise experience repeated hospital admissions.
There are a lot of ways the Cranebrook team can support people. This could be calling them to make sure they’re traveling okay, or providing outreach services where they travel to people’s homes, supporting them with their day-to-day living. They can also bring people into the house at Cranebrook house for group activities.
Peer workers can also support people to attend medical appointments and provide advocacy if they need it. Many of the people who attend the Cranebrook service have had admissions to the Pialla mental health unit at Nepean Hospital, and we visited some people at that unit during my placement.
The Cranebrook service also provides short-term accommodation. Upstairs there are bedrooms, each with an ensuite toilet. They don’t look like hospital rooms at all!
The Cranebrook service runs 24 hours a day 7 days a week, and is covered by 3 shifts of workers: 7:30am to 5:30pm, 5:30pm to 11pm, and 11pm to 5:30am. They also have an around-the-clock warmline, and calls to the warmline can be redirected to on-call work mobiles if it’s urgent.
My studies are close to wrapping up, but they aren’t over yet. I recently submitted the Supervisor’s Logs from my Cranebrook placement, and there’s a few assessments I still need to do. I also need to create a survey for the people who work there or the carers or the consumers.
Now that I’ve completed my placement, this has helped me to think about where I want to go in the role of a mental health peer worker. It’s given me a better understanding of what is involved, as I’ve never experienced this work firsthand before.
With my next steps as a peer worker there are options I’m going to explore, including New Horizons, NEAMI, and Flourish Australia. Just the other day I filled in an Expression Of Interest (EOI) for employment with Flourish Australia in the Western Sydney area. Wish me luck!