Month: August 2019

Using my own lived experience to support people

Kylie SmithABOVE: Kylie Smith, Peer Worker at the Women and Children’s Program PHOTO BY GRANT J EVERETT

What is does it mean to use your own lived experience of mental health issues to support other people? Kylie Smith, a Peer Worker at Flourish Australia’s Women & Children’s Program at Blacktown explains.

By Kylie Smith

My lived experience is what led me to this role. I started an online support group for women who live with a mental health issue, and I actually found out about this little cottage through the grapevine. I arranged to meet with Belinda Jenkins, the Senior Cluster Manager who ran things, and when she mentioned something about peer workers I was like, “Okay, I didn’t even know that such a role even existed! So I could use my own experiences to support people?” I applied for a casual position, and I’ve been here ever since. This is my first role working in the mental health sector, and in October I’ve been doing it for five years. 

The services we offer vary according to need. I started off working in the residential program, which is comprised of six villas located on site at Charmian Clift. This program provides around-the-clock supported accommodation. However, I’m now working with the transition and outreach program. This basically means working with families living out in the community. At the moment we have nine families in transition, and three in outreach who I work with directly. Another couple of peer workers share the caseload with me here at Charmian Clift. No two days are the same, which is a good thing.

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“To make room for the things you really want, you have to let some other things go”

Anne.jpgABOVE: Anne relaxing on the porch of her new, clutter-free home PHOTO PROVIDED BY ANNE

by Anne from Maitland

I am a mother of three, and I also have many happy and healthy grandchildren. I raised my three children by myself – with some help from my mum when I got really sick – in the same house for 26 years. I tried hard to bring my children up so they wouldn’t be scared of life. I got them involved in sports and dance activities and tried to be the best mum I could. 

As a mother, we give so much to our children and often have so little left for ourselves. During their upbringing, I was sure to make time to express myself by writing poetry and doing other creative things. Some of my poetry has been published, and I won an Editor’s Choice Award in 1992 or 1993. I have painted for a number of years, and I’ve got experience using oils, watercolours and acrylics. 

During a  traumatic period of unwellness in 1990 I was given a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. I had another period of unwellness in 1994 or 1995. At first I found it difficult to cope, but then I began taking a medication which makes me feel a lot better. While I already had difficulty maintaining my home before that point, I think that this traumatic period in my life was what lead to me acquiring my hoarding problem.

Continue reading ““To make room for the things you really want, you have to let some other things go””

Sailing for Recovery

towards boat.jpgABOVE: John O (RIGHT) walks down the gangway towards the Harmony II two-person yacht for another great day on the water! PHOTO BY SIAN STANLEY

By Warren Heggarty 

How Sailability and Flourish Australia support John to pursue his interests

Getting out into the open air and doing something physical is good for us. It’s good for our physical health and it’s good for our mental health, too. What about sailing on the harbour? It’s not just billionaires who do it. John O, who accesses Flourish Australia’s service at Leichhardt, goes sailing every second week, thanks to an organisation called Sailability. John is keen to share his experience with you and encourages you to give sailing a try, too!

Many people with mental health issues have their lives and interests interrupted and stop doing the things they enjoy. Flourish Australia aims to help people reconnect with those interests, or even find new ones!

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Helen Blum: The very beginning of Australian Peer Workers

Desley Casey, Simon Champ and Helen Blum.jpgABOVE (FROM LEFT): Desley Casey, Simon Champ and Helen Blum, all pioneers of the early recovery movement. PHOTO COURTESY OF JANET MEAGHER AM

By Grant J Everett

Considering that Flourish Australia employs well over two hundred Peer Workers, it may surprise you that this role has only existed for a little over a quarter of a century. The very first paid Peer Worker in the country was Helen Blum in 1992, though back then this role was called something else: Consumer Worker. 

Like all the Peer Workers who followed in her footsteps, Helen had a lived experience of a mental health issue that she would utilise to assist others who were going through similar circumstances. Peer Workers provide non-judgemental, empathetic, practical support, and are mentors and role models who can support people with a lived experience navigate the mental health system. Peer Workers often know firsthand what it’s like to have treatment forced upon them, to be kept in seclusion, the distressing side effects some medication can have, and the stigma and discrimination people with mental health issues often encounter in the community. Peer workers can draw upon their own lived experience to provide a sense of hope to a person on their recovery journey.

Continue reading “Helen Blum: The very beginning of Australian Peer Workers”

Trevor: Doing it for the love

Trevor4.jpgABOVE: Trevor has been playing this bass for five years PHOTO BY GRANT J EVERETT

By Trevor from New Outlook

If you ask me how I am today, I’d say I’m very good. It’s probably the best day of my life!

I really value being able to express myself creatively with my music, and two years ago I finally bit the bullet and started composing. Now I have almost two hundred followers on Facebook! It gives me a buzz to know that there are people out there who like my music. Some of my followers are personal friends, but many of them are from all around the world and I haven’t actually met any of them. I probably wouldn’t have been able to start composing and sharing my songs without the confidence I have gained with New Outlook’s help.

I’ve been attending New Outlook the whole time it’s been at Wollongong. I’ve become friends with a lot of the members over the years, though many of them have moved on to bigger and better things. It’s always bittersweet to see them go. These friendships, the chance to socialise and the familiarity, are what keep me here. 

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From YPOP to Help Desk, Kirt has a solution


ABOVE: Kirt can see a pattern, and we’re sure you can, too. PHOTO BY WARREN HEGGARTY

By Grant J Everett and Warren Heggarty

It would have seemed impossible had we not seen it with our own eyes…

The Panorama staff were discussing ideas with a group of people who access our services when we were treated to an impromptu display of Rubik’s Cube speed solving. Kirt, who formerly accessed Flourish Australia’s Young People’s Outreach Program (YPOP) at Kogarah, claimed (correctly) that he could solve the puzzle from any random setting in under ten seconds. 

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My journey towards becoming a peer worker by Glenda Paton: Part Two


ABOVE: Glenda’s graduation (with support from a very proud husband, Dave)  PHOTO BY GLENDA PATON

Last issue, we introduced our readers to Glenda, sharing the journey she has taken through mental health issues on the way to gaining the life that she wants. At the end of part one we revealed that Glenda and her husband, Dave, found out they were pregnant with twins…now read on

By Glenda Paton

I had a healthy twin pregnancy and an uneventful labour. Apart from being induced, I was able to have both the babies naturally, which was unusual in Bathurst hospital as twins are often caesareans. We were fortunate that a midwife friend of ours was able to get us into contact with another midwife who was studying to be a doula (a woman who provides guidance and support to pregnant women and new mums). She really helped support us through the pregnancy and postnatal periods. 

Unfortunately, after our babies were born I became unwell again. My husband had never seen me like this, so all of a sudden he was a brand new father of infant twins who had to also deal with a wife who has mental health issues. This was a really challenging time for both of us, and we only got through it with God’s help (as well as family, friends and various organisations around town). Due to my husband’s brain injury he slept very heavily at night, so we needed outside assistance to look after our twins when I was in hospital. 

Continue reading “My journey towards becoming a peer worker by Glenda Paton: Part Two”