A Path to Follow

peer support

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:

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

All about Perspective

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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