Michael Burbank, consumer participation facilitator with peer support workers Sari Anderson and Gavin McKellar and Dr Richard Seamark, adult inpatient service psychiatristat the Mental Health Facility at Sunshine Coast University Hospital.
Michael Burbank, consumer participation facilitator with peer support workers Sari Anderson and Gavin McKellar and Dr Richard Seamark, adult inpatient service psychiatristat the Mental Health Facility at Sunshine Coast University Hospital. John McCutcheon

Coast hospital pioneers new approach to mental health care

ON World Health Day today - where depression is the focus - Gavin McKellar, Sari Anderson and Michael Burbank have cause to celebrate.

They're among a pioneering team of peer workers at the new Sunshine Coast University Hospital's mental health facility who are helping people with major depressive disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and a range of other severe mental health illnesses.

Their appointment last month follows Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service's decision to grow the number of people with lived experience of mental illness, their families and carers as part of its workforce.

Peer workers are people with a lived experience of a mental illness, and use this experience to support inpatients.

"Because peer workers are people who have faced, endured, and overcome adversity themselves, they can offer a different perspective than our clinical staff to our consumers," acting clinical director of addiction services Dr Richard Spence-Thomas said.

RELATED: New Coast mental health facility will save lives

Sari Anderson said after living with mental health challenges all her life she was inspired to "support others in their journey".

"There is life after mental illness - it isn't a dead end," she said. "You can actually live a life that is fulfilled and achieve what you want to do - those dreams you had when you were young.

"Just because you get struck down, doesn't mean you can't get up."

Gavin McKellar lives with mental health challenges for 23 years.

"For me it's about transferring that ability to get back up at the eleventh round, or that you're being knocked and have rebounded," he said.

"It's not been a linear journey...but it's about being able to connect on different levels."

He said his role was in parallel to a treatment team, but it was different because he had a lot in common with people in the facility.

Consumer participation facilitator Michael Burbank said his role was about holding the "flag of hope" for people currently in the mental health service's care.

"One of the challenges with mental illness is you lose your sense of person, you lose your boundaries; you don't understand where you start and finish," he said.

"So the importance of being validated can...never be overstated."

Their appointment of the three peer workers last month follows Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service's decision to grow the number of people with lived experience of mental illness, their families and carers as part of its workforce.

Peer workers are people with a lived experience of a mental illness, and use this experience to support inpatients.

"Because peer workers are people who have faced, endured, and overcome adversity themselves, they can offer a different perspective than our clinical staff to our consumers," acting clinical director of addiction services Dr Richard Spence-Thomas said.

Dr Spence-Thomas said the peer workforce program also provided a career path for consumers.

"Supporting consumers through vocational training and employment is key to their recovery," he said.

"Peer workers are living proof that recovery can happen. They model recovery and resilience not only for the people they work with but also for families, other staff, services, clinicians and the community at large."

$25,600 funding from Wishlist (the Sunshine Coast Health Foundation) we were able to assist people to train for a Certificate IV in Peer Work at TAFE Queensland East Coast.

Some of these people have since been employed by non-government organisations while others are current consumer companions in our service.

Contacting Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service

To reach out to public mental health services on the Coast call 1300 MH CALL (1300 64 22 55).

National 24/7 crisis services

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467

MensLine Australia: 1300 78 99 78

beyondblue: 1300 22 46 36

Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800


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