peer support MindSkiller CONNECT

MindSkiller® Harnesses the Power of Peer Support in Mental Health Education Through CONNECT

As countless Australians find themselves stuck on lengthy waitlists to secure appointments with psychiatrists and psychologists, it's clear that our mental health services are overwhelmed. And unfortunately, the surge in demand during the COVID-19 pandemic made accessing Australia's mental health sector all the more difficult.

This high barrier to entry has left patients grappling with mental disorders with little to no support, especially those in need of subacute care. As the pressure on psychiatrists and psychologists mounts, the peer support workforce has become a powerful but untapped tool in the mental health sector - something that MindSkiller® has wholeheartedly embraced.

What is a Peer Support Worker?
Peer work is a specific professional role that demands a strong sense of purpose, specialised training, and extensive knowledge of the mental health system. However, peer support workers differ from other mental health professionals because their qualifications primarily stem from personal experience.

According to the NSW State Government, a peer support worker "draws[s] upon their own personal lived experience of mental illness, suicidal crisis and recovery to provide authentic engagement and support for people accessing mental health care." In other words, peer support workers must identify as being, or having been, a mental health consumer or carer. They must have lived experience navigating mental illness and the health care system.

Therefore, peer support takes numerous forms depending on the individual's history. For instance, consumer peer workers draw upon their personal experiences of mental illness and recovery to assist fellow consumers, while carer peer workers utilise their experiences as caregivers for family or friends with mental health issues.

The Benefits of Peer Support
As people who have faced mental health challenges and triumphed in their recovery, peer support workers inspire mental health consumers. Through their stories of resilience, they become living proof that individuals with lived experience of mental health challenges can lead fulfilling and productive lives.

By openly sharing their journey and accomplishments, they act as visible advocates and role models, breaking down the barriers of stigma and normalising the conversation around mental health. Their presence within the workforce not only encourages consumers to seek support without the fear of judgement but also creates a strong personal relationship. This connection, in turn, helps alleviate the sense of isolation and shame often accompanying mental health struggles.

"You stop seeing people as a definition of someone with a mental illness or someone with lived experience," Catherine Lourey, the Commissioner of the NSW Mental Health Commission, explains. "Stigma and discrimination get broken down, and you can connect with the person and understand who they are and what they bring, and I think, therefore, it's a richer workforce overall."

Unlike the hierarchical dynamics commonly observed with psychologists or psychiatrists, the equal footing shared between peer support workers and patients fosters relatability - something that holds particular significance when engaging with at-risk communities, where building trust and breaking down barriers is essential. In such contexts, mental health consumers may find it easier to openly discuss their fears and challenges with individuals who share their experiences.

That being said, it is important to note that peer support workers should not replace other mental health professionals. Rather, they complement their services, offering mental health consumers a comprehensive range of options for support and care.

All state and territory government agencies in Australia recognise the significance of peer support workers, albeit with varying approaches to its development and promotion. Notably, in New South Wales, efforts are underway to establish a supportive infrastructure for the peer workforce. In 2020, the NSW Government allocated $73 million to address the growing mental health challenges, aiming to expand the community mental health and peer workforce by over 80 new positions.

Since then, the NSW peer workforce has flourished, with the Mental Health Coordinating Council noting that "[peer supports] now makeup 14% of the NSW community mental health workforce." MindSkiller® is capitalising on this upward trend, hoping to leverage the person-centred care of peer support.

Peer Support on MindSkiller®
On MindSkiller®, Help-Seekers have the opportunity to become Help-Providers themselves. These users can attain MindSkiller® Certificates in Mental Health Literacy and be verified as online Mentor Help-Providers, which will be listed on the CONNECT Registry.

Peer supports are categorised as Mentors on MindSkiller® and can offer educational support to consumers navigating through the eLEARNING modules. They can add value to any consultations Help-Seekers are gaining from clinicians to provide a well-rounded support network.

For those interested in becoming "Volunteer Educators" on the platform, MindSkiller® offers training sessions with Robert Gayst, the Director of the Training Educator Program. In these meetings, users will simulate being a Help-Provider. Once they have successfully completed MindSkiller® eLEARNING units 1, 2 and 3 they will earn a MindSkiller® Certificate in Mental Health Education, which can be displayed on the CONNECT database. Volunteer Educators in Australia will receive monthly honorariums based on their time spent online as a Help-Provider.

If you are interested in starting your peer support journey on MindSkiller®, click here to learn more.



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