No.5 Naomi Rourke. Peer Worker, Peer Led Aftercare.
A Peer Worker is someone who has personal lived experience of using mental health services or has been through mental health recovery and then uses the knowledge gained from that experience to support other people going through mental distress. My particular role is part of an individual community based support program developed and funded by the Nepean Blue Mountains Primary health Network (NBMPHN) called ‘Peer Led Aftercare’.
Who are the people Peer Led aftercare was created for?
I have the privilege of working with people in what is potentially the most difficult and vulnerable time of their lives - after an attempt to end their life. This includes adults that live in the Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District and have presented to any hospital.
Can you share an example of how individuals have benefitted?
I’ve helped some wonderful people recently, one person found my support great simply to have someone to talk to and have a reason to get out of the house once a week. And another person I helped to connect to a new psychological service by listening to their needs and finding the perfect fit for them. I have helped by taking some of the scariness of going somewhere new out of the equation, by making the calls and enquiries. When you’re feeling low, it’s good to have someone in your corner to make arrangements. And of course, people just love to have a chat to someone that’s been where they’ve been and isn’t going to judge them. It’s nice to have that breather and let your guard down and feel accepted for who you are and the feelings you’re having.
What are the ways that people can connect with you?
When you’re in the hospital, or in the few days after it, a Mental Health Clinician will make a plan with you about what help you might need and how to look after yourself when you are at home and go back to everyday life. The clinician might suggest a Mental Health Peer Worker, or you can always ask about it yourself. You are always encouraged to be involved in planning decisions and have your say.
Alternatively you can call the Blue Mountains Mental Health Access Team during business hours and have a chat to me or a colleague by calling the NSW Mental Health Line 1 800 011 511
What strengths do you see revealed in the people you have supported?
Hope is definitely the biggest strength. I see people go from complete hopelessness and having nothing to look forward to, to starting to see things coming together, even in the slightest, and willing to give life a go again.
Hope is one of the most difficult things to muster, but it’s one of the most powerful things in recovery. The people that find hope when they start with none- they’re the strongest people I know.
Why did you choose to train in this sort of work?
Initially, it was something to do that would also help with my own mental health recovery. It was great to learn about stress management and vicarious trauma but I still wasn’t interested in being a peer worker. I just couldn’t imagine being able to say the right things. That is, until I did a presentation on how helping others can help our own wellbeing. I spoke my thoughts that I’d quickly jotted down with some examples from my own life. Everyone sat quietly and really listened and were inspired for their own wellbeing and genuinely thanked me. Not only was it a reminder of how I’d already helped myself by helping others, but I was encouraged in that moment that I can help other people, and I can do it just by being myself.
How do you look after yourself?
Sleeeeeeep. I love sleep. Everyone is different, but sleep helps me regulate my mood- a lot. I’ve tracked my sleep on an app on my phone for seven years. Tracking gives me a heads up on when I may be more vulnerable emotionally and so remind me to be compassionate to myself. It can show me that I’m stressed about something if it takes me too long to fall asleep. For example right now it’s 2am and writing this is helping me take my mind off other things. Or if I’m upset with a situation, I can see if maybe it’s not as bad as I think and really I just need a nap!
What lessons have you learnt from your work?
Great question! That everyone is different. Everyone has different experiences, even if it’s similar to your experience, it can be so different. But even still, we are all human and want and need compassion and respect.
What is the most valuable piece of advice you would give to the readers right now?
Please stay alive. No one else can play your part.
Remember you can get mental health support by talking to your gp or phoning one of the many phone support services.
Mensline Australia 24 Hour phone advice 1300 789 987
Beyond Blue 24 Hour advice 13 00 224 636
24 Hour Mental health Access line 1800 011 511
Lifeline Australia 24 Hours 13 11 14
(Crisis support and suicide prevention)