Support at work leads the way
Peer workers have lived through mental health challenges, says Jeremy Rockliff
THE Tasmanian Government has a strong commitment to increasing access to mental health services.
Ensuring Tasmanians can receive the care they need at the right place and right time is so important, from early intervention and prevention, to treatment and support.
In our Rethink mental health plan, we made the establishment of a peer workforce in public mental health services a priority.
We have started a trial employing consumer and career peer workers in public mental health services, and last year the Mental
Health Council of Tasmania began to develop our first mental health peer workforce strategy.
A peer worker is someone who has experience of mental ill-health and recovery, or experience as a family member, friend, or carer supporting someone with mental health challenges.
Peer workers provide support to consumers and carers on their mental health journeys. They are living proof the right support gives people the best chance to lead happy, fulfilling and productive lives.
There is a growing body of evidence that shows peer workers contribute to better engagement and experience of mental health services, and therefore better outcomes.
For consumers, families and carers, peer workers offer hope, and demonstrate recovery is possible. They help to navigate the range of services, and advocate for better service delivery.
For organisations, peer workers assist in breaking down stigma. Peer workers also benefit through increased opportunity to participate in meaningful ways, as well as employment opportunities.
The new Mental Health Hospital in the Home service, which began in March in the South, is an example of peer workers achieving positive outcomes. Louise Megson, nurse manager of Mental Health Hospital in the Home, said having peer workers as part of the team has changed everything about the way we work for the better. “The inclusion of peer workers has given a voice to the consumers and carers … to enable us to work together more effectively as a team,” she said.
We want to support its expansion, which is why our government has funded the Peer Workforce Development Strategy. This has six priority areas supported by 38 actions to encourage engagement of peer workers, and expand the roles of peer workers across the mental health sector.
It aims to improve health outcomes for consumers and supports for carers, improve design of mental health services, deliver benefits to the wider mental health system, and raise awareness of peer work in organisations and across the community. The importance of this strategy is demonstrated by the time and commitment of steering committee members, led by the Mental Health Council of Tasmania. The insights of their networks are vital.
I acknowledge our peer workers across a range of organisations – thank you for the valuable work you do.
Our challenge will be to consider the broader opportunities for peer workers not only in health, but across public, private and community sectors. This strategy is a step towards that goal and I look forward to working with peer workers, consumers, families and carers, to implement the Peer Workforce Development Strategy. You can find out more at www.mhct.org