After a prolonged period of experiencing the ‘revolving door’ of mental health clinical services, I was offered the opportunity to participate in a service, known as a Prevention and Recovery Care service, in North Fitzroy, Melbourne. As I mentioned in my previous blog, PARC provided much-needed support and resources, which have assisted my recovery from severe depression and anxiety. Since my time at PARC, I have undertaken a series of steps towards becoming a mental health peer support worker. The first step involved becoming a volunteer for the Wellways Life in Community (LINC) program.
The LINC program provides volunteer support for up to three months, for people who experience mental illness, as well as their families, assisting them to engage with community. LINC operates in the Australian Capital Territory and in Melbourne, as part of North Fitzroy and South Yarra (PARC) and the Opening Doors residential service.
I’ve been part of the LINC program for almost two years now. I was in one of the first groups to go through training, which consisted of four three-hour sessions and covered a range of topics including fundamental beliefs of social inclusion, social barriers for people with mental health issues, open communication, leaving space for listening, engaging in difficult conversations and self-care. The application form was extensive, and I was required to attend an interview before being accepted as a LINC volunteer. One of the things that attracted me to LINC was the caliber of the people at PARC and Wellways, and the people they select. One of the most important things that Wellways look for in their volunteers is people with a strong sense of community and social justice.
LINC begins with meeting and greeting a PARC participant. This allows each party an opportunity to ask questions and get an idea of whether you think things will work out. Then it’s up to the volunteer and participant to exchange numbers and arrange a time to meet. One of the most important things about LINC, and perhaps even its greatest strength, is the program provides support for people to transition back into the community. When people are discharged from hospital there is seldom any follow up, leaving them feeling completely alone. The LINC has a very clear purpose in that it aims to facilitate growth in each participant’s social networks.
One of the participants I supported was a young woman, a voicer hearer, who had intrusive thoughts and did not believe she had a mental illness. She had spent a significant period of time in hospital, and then a month in PARC. She was socially isolated, living by herself in the community. She had resisted any attempt to take part in activities or engage with others in the community.
We met every fortnight a different café in her community and spoke about a range of different topics, from travel to current affairs. I spent time at each meeting exploring her interests, with the hope of encouraging her to engage in community activities or social groups. We developed a great rapport over the course of the time we spent together, and she was extremely happy she’d been able to develop and maintain a relationship over a reasonable period of time. She said that if she had to go back to PARC she would certainly be requesting another volunteer. The aim the program is to promote social inclusion by helping participants establish links with their own community, whether that is attending the local neighborhood house or a meet-up group. However, this is not always possible. And while one may try, one shouldn’t underestimate the groundwork that is laid by simply meeting up with someone. In this example, the person I was working with had such intrusive thoughts and was so socially isolated, so the fact that she was able to come and meet me each week was a small miracle in itself.
Since volunteering in the LINC program I have been working hard to gain more experience and training in order to move into the peer support space. I have completed the five-day Intentional Peer Support training, formal work-based training, and the Certificate IV in Mental Health Peer Support. I have now completed this course of study and I am the only one within our service, and the only one of 20 people in Victoria, who hold this qualification.
I now work as a peer support worker within a multi-disciplinary team at St Vincent’s Hospital’s Footbridge program (a Community Care Unit), working directly with consumers. I provide in-service training to staff and hold a number of portfolios such as Advance Statements and the NDIS.
The best thing about my experience as an inpatient of St Vincent’s and then a PARC participant, was that for the first time I felt I was listened to and was provided with the resources I needed to begin my recovery.
I want to leave you with a quote that is meaningful to me:
“Someone once said a happy ending depends on where you decide to stop your story. Then again, it could be when you realise that your story is not yet over, you are only at the end of the beginning.” - The Night Watch, Sarah Waters
Jeremy Le Roux
Peer Worker at St Vincent’s Footbridge program
Read part 1: My experience: Prevention And Recovery Care