It’s not often community workers have the chance to influence the clinicians of tomorrow. However, this opportunity arose recently for Kathy O’Brien and myself, in our roles as Intentional Peer Workers at Wellways in Launceston.

Kathy and I were asked to address second-year nursing students at the University of Tasmania, to talk about our own experiences of living with mental illness and, more importantly, recovery.

The collaboration between Wellways, the University of Tasmania and the Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS) Tasmania was headed by Lynette Pearce, Senior Consumer and Carer Liaison Consultant with the DHHS. Lynette is a strong supporter of our roles as peer workers.

Before sharing our experiences, I sat in on a lecture around current theories and practical approaches to recovery. I monitored the content and reflected on how the lecturer balanced the importance of access to both consumer and clinical support in a person’s mental health recovery.

In sharing my experience, I spoke about the support in rediscovering identity, reconnecting with personal values, and the powerful role of hope and possibility in reclaiming control in many areas of life. For recovery to progress, there must be a real connection between motivation and the achieving of self-directed goals.

For Kathy, in sharing her experience of living with schizophrenia, her central message was that people with psychosis should be heard rather than feared. Minimising stigma and discrimination is an issue that motivates Kathy in her work. Through her experience in the hospital system, nothing is more important than respect and compassion when nurses are treating patients experiencing psychosis.

Kathy believes that chance, choice and commitment are the roots to any successful recovery. While recovery does not happen in isolation, all three of these roots should be determined and enabled by the individual.

The opportunity for peer workers to meet with the nurses of tomorrow, connect with them and influence their future practice cannot be underestimated. Addressing the nursing students was a positive initiative, and peer workers certainly have a role to play in developing nurses’ skills and knowledge.

For some consumers, there is still a long way to go in providing services that treat people with respect, dignity and instil hope for their future. Through the positive and honest interactions that this opportunity provided, we are optimistic that the nurses we met will work to ‘best practice’ for those they care for in the future.

Harvey Baker-Dowdell
Intentional Peer Support Worker, Wellways Australia, Launceston