Seeking help for any medical issue can be a daunting prospect, and especially so when it comes to mental health.
It can make a world of difference to speak to someone who’s been through a similar situation and understands how you’re feeling.
Suzanne Rix is one of those people.
“I know what it’s like to feel isolated, not knowing what to do and what might happen next,” Suzanne said.
“Our job is about providing hope and showing that you can live the life you want to lead.”
Suzanne is the workforce manager in the Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) Peer Services team based at Cumberland Hospital, which is made up of peer workers or ‘lived experience workers’.
In addition to the Peer Services team, peer workers are also embedded in individual teams throughout Mental Health Services. All told, there are currently 12 peer workers in WSLHD hospital and community settings.
The unique aspect of this crucial workforce is they all have lived experience with mental health issues and recovery.
They use their experience to not only support and advocate for consumers (known also as clients or patients), but also help fellow health staff better understand how consumers might be feeling and to see things from their perspective.
“Being in hospital can be scary, so we’re here to break down the barriers and help people on their journey,” Suzanne said.
“We use layman’s talk, not clinical language, to give people the information they need and explain how the system works. We’re here to help empower people, and sometimes be their voice if they are not able to speak for themselves.”
Suzanne has been with the WSLHD peer workforce for 20 years and in that time has got to know countless consumers, as well as being a voice for people living with mental health issues in the planning of projects. She has recently contributed to work including the new Boronia non-acute and Pavilion buildings on Cumberland campus and the ongoing work at Blacktown and Cumberland hospitals.
Suzanne said her role can be challenging but is ultimately rewarding.
“The connection between a peer worker and a consumer is very valuable. We can help them to know recovery is possible. When they’re in a place that’s not too good, hospital and using mental health services in the community can feel never-ending. So to see people who too have experienced mental health issues working and having meaningful relationships gives them hope,” she said.
“Just sitting with someone who’s scared, lonely and doesn’t understand what’s happening can be so important to them in that moment. Even if our exact experiences are different, having a mutual understanding does really help people to accept their circumstance and break down the stigma.
“We have to be real with people and sometimes have difficult conversations about the tough road ahead. But it is the message of hope that is really important.”
WSLHD peer workers undertake a Certificate IV in Mental Health Peer Work with the Mental Health Coordinating Council. They work in hospital and community settings with consumers of all ages and backgrounds, including adolescents, adults and older people.
To find out more, call the Peer Services team on (02) 9840 3868 or email WSPeerServices@health.nsw.gov.au.
October is Mental Health Month. Find out more about taking care of your own health and checking in with others at mentalhealthmonth.org.au.
Help is always available if you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health issue:
In an emergency, please call triple zero (000).