Mental health consumer consultants know what it’s like to feel hopeless and worthless.
They have suffered mental illness themselves.
Latrobe Regional Hospital’s consumer consultants, Heather Brown and Allan Tucker have endured their own mental health journeys.
Since their recovery, both Heather and Allan have dedicated themselves to providing assistance, support and an empathetic ear to the mentally ill.
Consumer consultant is a varied role, creating a link between consumers, mental health professionals and management.
Heather and Allan are a voice for consumers utilising the mental health services, they provide one-on-one support for clients, and their own stories are an inspiration to others.
Enabling the consumer’s voice to be heard is extremely important in making sure Latrobe Regional Hospital’s mental health services are relevant and providing the best possible care and treatment.
Consumer consultants provide direct support to clients and also spend a great deal of time speaking to groups throughout Gippsland and attempting to diffuse the stigma attached to mental illness.
When Heather Brown began work as a consumer consultant 11 years ago, she surveyed a range of people throughout Gippsland on their beliefs about mental illness.
In 1996, 100 per cent of those surveyed believed there was a significant stigma attached to those seeking assistance for mental health issues.
While recent revelations from high profile Australians sharing their battles with mental illness have been positive, Heather believes a significant stigma still exists.
“We try to get out there and break down the barriers,” she said.
“The stigma is caused by a lack of knowledge and the fear of the unknown.
“There are people out there in the community who still won’t seek help for their mental illness because of the stigma attached.”
Another important role of the consumer consultant is helping the mentally ill people realise that they can recover and move on with their lives.
“Many say that mental illness has ruined my life,” Allan said.
“But we try to make our clients take responsibility for their illness and move on.
“It’s scary and you might not know how to do it, but if you don’t, you can’t move on to the next phase of your life.
“We can provide them with all the support and inspiration they need, but it is up to the clients to continue their own journey once the treatment is complete.
“We try to empower people, they are not the victim.”
With mental illness affecting so many in our communities, Heather says everyone can play a role.
“One out of every five people will be affected by mental illness at some stage of their lives,” she said.
“But five out of five can help.”