A Path to Follow

Author name: Kirstie Edwards

A Path To Follow Inc. Board of Directors

A Path To Follow is now A Path To Follow Inc.  What does that mean? It means we have made a legal commitment to provide services to the community and only use our profits to put back into those services for community.   To enable this next big move, we needed a small team with aligned philosophies to guide our service.  It is my great pleasure to begin introducing you to these very people here. Amy – Vice President Amy comes to A Path To Follow Inc. with both living experience and professional experience in mental health. We could not think of a more fitting Director to introduce on International Women’s Day 2023. In Amy’s short bio you will read about her perspective on gender equity, her love of art and much, much more. Read on here

Apparently who I am and what I do is complicated – Let me sort that for you…

What, why and how I do “A Path To Follow” is complicated apparently (ah, yes it is).  This is largely due to our commitment to the customisation of wellbeing services to meet the needs of our peers. But I do get it, I need community to understand what we do, if we are to truly provide positive impact for those who need it most. This means I need to know how to simplify our key messages. Here is my attempt at a describing what really is a niche, pivotal and unique service in a simple way that also still captures the true essence of our service for those who really need it right now. Here goes… Please let me know your feedback. I am Kirstie; Founder of A Path To Follow (APTF), (Volunteer) Secretary of South Eastern Suicide Prevention Network, Mental Health Service User and Carer, Professional, Mum, Wife and Human Being (the order of which does not reflect my priorities nor preferences). I have over 25 years of professional experience in wellbeing related sectors, inclusive of practice within education, family, community and mental health systems.   I also have well over 25 years of combined mental health lived experience as a mental health service user and/or as a carer to a young person experiencing mental health related challenges.   It is that lived experience that grounds my professional practice, enabling authentic engagement and personalised support of young people and families in their wellbeing journeys.    It is those combined Lived and Professional experiences that saw APTF arrive as an alternative method of care in our “broken” mental health service system; out of the the raw, personal, chaotic, traumatic and grief laden journey within the system arose something so important, so ingrained in my being that I knew professionally young people and families need. Three years old as an official business, (9 years into a venture that began with a small but important volunteer community awareness and fundraising focus) my commitment to young people and family wellbeing has not changed; in fact, it has grown and consolidated my commitment and passion. I will continue to practice within my values and vision according to the missions set to proudly provide this unique model of service, growing our professional and lived experience workforce as we go. Our mental health peer youth, family and sporting programs for are a product of my combined mental health experiences and current best practice evidence, with each embedded in principles of prevention, early intervention and personalised response.  Both Australian and International research backs the role of lived experience working collaboratively alongside professional care to help communities bring about their own best outcomes in wellbeing. Just look at our RCMH recommendations for evidence in support of lived experience and peer support in our trying to save our mental health system. Very rarely is my life simple or my mind uncomplicated. I hope I have untangled the tangles and simplified the complexities enough for those of you needing a light at the end of your tunnel today. Kirstie Descriptions of Youth, Family and Sporting Peer Programs can be found on our website. Further information on our  Model Of Peer Support, can be found here:

So, what exactly is Lived Experience Mental Health Peer Support?

Lived Experience Mental Health Peer Support   A Mental Health Peer Worker is employed based on their personal lived/living experience of mental health challenges and recovery. They are commonly being employed in hospital and community settings, often alongside the employment of Carer Peers, who tend to support the families of those experiencing challenges. A Path To Follow’s Model Of Peer Support APTF uses a model of Lived Experience Peer Support, where APTF Peers use their living/lived and professional experiences to support the peer journey. Inherent to this model are the foundational principles of Intentional Peer Support’s Framework: From Helping to Learning Together – we don’t see peers as needing to be fixed or us as the experts, Individual to Relationship – we see our work together as a partnership where both peers have a responsibility and From Fear to Hope and Possibility we don’t subscribe to a traditional risk based model, rather we use one that sees the meaning behind risks as a source of opportunity to learn and grow, in a safe and supportive manner. We acknowledge this system is quite different from the medicalised model we have all grown up with; you as a patient/client seeing an expert. We are all experts within our own lives and APTF was founded, and is directed by Kirstie, with substantial knowledge and experience of the system as a consumer, carer and professional. APTF Peers use a mix of perspectives and experiences to advocate and walk beside young people and their families, enabling participation in supports while remaining connected to their communities. This model of service is not a crisis service but does offer a flexibility outside what many mainstream services are able to offer. Support is customised according to needs; including various session locations and contact times, who is included in the service, referrals to other services, shared care with other services and so on… Sometimes we just want to be heard. That is a great place to start with us. Reach out for your FREE consultation to see how we can assist.

Lived Experience Mental Health Support – Not a compromised service

Running any business is hard and running a lived experience mental health business can be both absolutely soul empowering and continually self doubt engendering. When a professional, a service or even a community member openly or subtly (same result either way) ignores or disregards your professional experience it becomes to feel disrespectful, frustrating and exhausting. It derives from a place of stigma and bias; based on the incorrect assumption that lived experience can somehow compromise the service provided. It can load noxious mental weight to your already experienced challenges. Between negotiating and proving my worth to those who hold steadfast to this narrow view, supporting APTF’s ,often maltreated, peers by our system failures and ensuring my selfcare to stay well, COVID has presented as a particularly tricky time for me. Sure, I could write another post to boost your spirit and positivity or I could be totally authentic and share how it really is and has been for me.  I hope this post serves to enlighten those with a conservative view point and provide some warmth and comfort to those struggling in these times. That is what lived experience is; a shared experience to help carry the load of the peers who trust us. I believe, using both my lived and professional experience, I do that very well. I was challenged by the first lock down, but I polished up my selfcare skills and even took on some new ones to see me through. The remaining lock downs are now a blur, to the point that I can barely remember when we arose from each restriction. Each isolation reprieve saw me become more and more anxious to venture back out, intertwined with not wanting to stay in either. All I know is where I sit now; feeling almost defeated. This is the closest I have come to that feeling of total worthless since I was acutely unwell after the births of our 2nd and 3rd boys. Don’t get me wrong, I am using coping strategies, just ones that are either really unhealthy and brain numbing, not soul nurturing. People with pre-existing mental health challenges can find these lockdowns additionally difficult. That is not to claim those experiencing these challenges for the first time are not. The difference is, there is a doubling of everything negative; the loneliness, the isolation, the connection, the lack of support and there is a total body and brain exhaustion that comes with trying to keep employing those positive strategies or find new ones. When I then need to continually prove my experience and worth as a lived experience mental health professional (as I do over and over again in advocating for our peers) it deflates me.  I disconnect. I feel without words to describe my emotion again. I begin to forget things.; only yesterday I forgot to run a zoom review of our sporting peer program, that I set up… That gutted me. And although I was close to breaking, that very error held me over the edge and instilled back in me a determination to continue, for myself and APTF. I have been fighting so hard within the system so they too see the worth of my peers the way I do, I forgot all about my passion to continue to invest in prevention and early intervention and in myself. Those kids, that club and the many parents who have backed my program as instilling resilience and essential life skills have just as much right to feel as let down in me, as I do in myself.  The program is small, but creating large impact within a safe sporting community for our future young people and their families. I am also disappointed that I have left my own health go as well, watching it as it waved me good bye. This morning I awoke with Gladys Berejiklian eyes, tired but quietly determined to make some changes; in myself and in consolidating the substance of APTF that connects with my life purpose and what community needs.  I hope I can share some of the journey with you as I get myself back on track again (who knows, maybe you will also see that I can struggle mentally and still provide reputable service, or especially so, given lived experience can be the unique gem in a conservative field for those who look outside the box. Kirstie Sign up for our future blog posts and news here

COVID CRAP and CONFUSION- The world Juxtapositions

Hey APTFers, I have been trying to work out why I cannot put words to the impact of COVID, from our very first lock down. CONFUSION AND CRAP OVERLOAD.   Now, in lock down 5, I have some sense of my distress; enough at least to share the confusion of it all with you… How are you coping?  Your family and friends?  APTF is still working during lock down and urge anyone requiring additional support to please reach out. In the meantime, see if this list resonates? Which do you tick off?  I would love to hear.   COVID CRAPPY JUXTAPOSITIONS We are all in this together                                                       Each of us is out for ourselves I have moments of great clarity                                           I have moments of complete overwhelm I am in total control                                                                         I have no control I care too much                                                                            I care too little I want to smoke less                                                                             I want to smoke more I want to go back to life                                                               I want to be isolated forever I want to drink less                                                                              I want to drink more I hate zoom.                                                                                       I love zoom Working from home is so convenient                                    1 more day working from here and I will go farking nuts Tomorrow I will…                                                                                                                 tomorrow comes:  ok when this lock down finishes I will …  I am getting unwell again                                                             everyone is struggling, this is not a sign. I am getting sick again defo                                                no it has passed- phew- I am going nuts…                                                                                 ok, so not a nuts day today …   And I write this from a substantial period of positive mental wellbeing. For those of you already dealing with challenges, I am here with you; I know this is so much harder for you. Reach out. Kirstie  

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