16 November 2022
Mind Australia Board Chair Professor Allan Fels said sharing his family’s experience had helped normalise public conversations about mental health.
Speaking on Mental Health Australia’s Walk the Talk series, Professor Fels said it was an empowering thing to do, especially for his daughter Isabella, who has a diagnosis of severe schizophrenia.
“I think it’s better to come out. The more people who have some lived experience, when you meet them, you can see they’re fellow human beings. I think that helps public understanding,” he said.
“Sharing our story was a great thing to do. We got quite a big response and more people understood.”
Through sharing his family’s experience, it became clear to Professor Fels that mental health support solutions needed to start with an understanding community.
Professor Fels’ family joined other impacted families to create The Haven Foundation – an integrated social housing and support service for people experiencing significant mental health and wellbeing challenges.
Haven residences provide a place for people to live independently while receiving 24/7 support from qualified mental health workers.
“I wanted Isabella to live with other people in the community,” he said.
“I had many parents, carers and friends of people with mental illness approach me. Together, we tried to get a place where the individuals with lived experience could live independently, but live together.”
Professor Fels said the expertise of people with a lived experience should be better utilised in the development, delivery and leadership of mental health services.
“People with lived experience bring a lot of understanding and sympathy to their interactions with other people with lived experience,” Professor Fels said.
“They can also play a role in explaining mental illness to others who don’t have that firsthand experience.
“People with lived experience can also bring their understanding and sympathy to leadership roles. They can have a big impact and make the system more friendly.”
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If this article raises concerns for you, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders can also call 13 YARN (13 92 76) a 24/7 national crisis support telephone service staffed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.