Lived Experience in Mental Health

Professional/Lived Experience. Who decides?

Who sets the arbitrary line to determine if or when I share my lived experience with my clients? Who decides if I use my lived experience in a way that is safe, for the benefit of our community and in line with best practice?

Great question.

The answer?  You.

And you know what? A person’s rapport with a service greatly influences the effectiveness of it.  Of course it should always be you. APTF provides a customised balance of professional and lived experience in mental health to support clients walking their mental well-being journeys. We recognise the need for consumers to feel supported by a team who can connect and journey beside you; personally and professionally.

My Experiences. Don’t box me in.

There is a growing body of evidence and overwhelming community and professional support for incorporating lived experience in our professional mental health services. That is how we already practice at APTF. I am more than one experience and one perspective. Don’t box me in.

I am a Consumer. I am Carer and I am Professional.

During physical isolation I participated in Tandem and Victorian Mental Illness Awareness Council (VMIAC)’s Royal Commission into Mental Health feedback sessions. Tandem represents carers of those living with mental health challenges. VMIAC represents consumers of mental health services.  I was also invited to bring “my perspective” to an Insta Live this week with the Discovery College. As a result of my participation and my Discovery Convo gig I got thinking more about my lived and professional experiences. How they serve my life long passion of supporting others in their mental well-being journeys.

Consumer. Carer. Professional.  Three aspects of my life not looking to alter in the short term. Three aspects of my life I am proud to identify with. Three aspects of my life I know assists other people in their journeys as consumers, carers and professionals.

Professional Limits

A set of often arbitrary and ambiguous codes, discouraging the sharing of lived experience, were pervasive in my time working within the family and health services field. With time, I shared a limited version of my lived experience. The professional scene demanded a somewhat sanitised version, however. A stark difference to how these experiences played out in actuality. I felt disappointed and alarmed at not being able to share experiences that could help those who shared their vulnerabilities with me.

Thanks to VMIAC, Tandem, Discovery College, other like organisations and passionate individuals, we are now looking at a new world. A new future where lived experience may take its rightful place in the mental health service system. A Path To Follow is already here; in the future. Our entire service is based on a customised balance of professional and lived experience in life’s challenges. We recognise there is a need and a place for all experiences to best support our community in their mental well-being journeys.

The Right Balance

But surely not everyone with lived experience is a good fit to provide such support I hear you ask?

I agree and disagree. Fence sitter, I hear you say.  Yep, I agree with that.

With appropriate desire, training, guidance and ongoing support, those with lived experience can support others in their journeys. Without those criteria fulfilled however, there are risks abound, for all parties. That is why at APTF, we provide the right balance of experience and customise a service that best suits the needs of our clients. Our Youth Mentors are not professionals, but they sure as heck have lived experience. They certainly tick off on the passion and desire. They are trained, guided and supported at all times, from both my professional and lived experiences.

I understand risk. I am fully trained and experienced in assessing, working with and intervening in it. We practise with the best interests of clients at front of mind. We use a “do no harm” approach and constantly assess and monitor risk. Where our lived experience can be shared within the do no harm approach and in the best interests of our clients, then we will share.

The Future

I hope we are about to enter a new world where ALL professionals in the field are able share their multi faceted experiences. Where our clinicians can take the lead of Georgie Harman, Beyond Blue CEO, who speaks with honesty of her lived experience with alcohol and depression.

Hearing the perspectives of fellow consumers and carers in recent times has only consolidated our approach at APTF as the right one for us. The feedback paints a service system where consumers and carers often feel disconnected from the clinicians caring for them. Very much a scene of “them” and “us”. We need to develop a “we” team.  All members on the same page, managing the same challenges, for a common purpose. A person’s recovery needs to take place with their chosen professionals, inclusive of that person’s family and community supports. A service that pays respect to and mindfully utilises lived and professional experience can attain all of that and more.

I am very excited about that!

I am also very excited we are already working within a model, providing services that our community is very loudly saying is needed. Professional and Lived experience; walking beside you.

If you want more information about our services or are in a position to financially support our service, please contact Kirstie.

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