Danielle Story

Having transitioned from school teacher to mental health team leader in a fast-paced hospital setting, it is an honour to receive this acknowledgement. Flourish Australia have opened my eyes to a form of shared leadership and collaboration that I absolutely love!

I work collaboratively with NSW Health in a 10 bed, voluntary Sub-Acute Mental Health Unit at Dubbo Base Hospital which provides recovery support, on a continuum of care between acute inpatient and community services.

My role as a Senior Mental Health Worker involves guiding and supporting a team who work on a 24/7 roster, so we can be like ships in the night and communication is all-important.  We facilitate care planning, link people in with community supports and services, provide guidance as needed and hold recovery conversations to help people get things in perspective – always using strengths based language to encourage them to think positively and see a brighter future.

I had always been curious about the field of mental health and after 8 years of teaching in the education system, I felt ready to try something new. I had my own experience of living with anxiety to draw on, so when I saw that Flourish Australia were advertising for people with lived experience I thought it was a great opportunity and applied. Change use to scare me, but when my husband had a stroke a few years ago it reminded me that life is short, so I don’t just think about doing things now, I take action and make things happen!

Excited to pursue a new role, I started out on a casual basis which gave me the space to adapt to a completely different field without being overwhelmed. I continued teaching while doing alternate days at the Unit and in NDIS and found I could apply attributes I’d developed as a teacher, to mental health work.

Over time, I grew more and more interested in the work Flourish Australia do, so I transitioned to a full time role as a Senior Mental Health Worker. It was a first for me to step into a team leadership role and I thoroughly enjoy it. The work culture here is wonderfully flexible and collaborative. We all bounce ideas off one another and contribute to how the unit moves forward by channelling our strengths and skill sets, so that everyone is equally appreciated for what they bring to the team in their own way.

Working in a fast paced environment calls for discipline around communication. We de-brief regularly as a team throughout the day and have processes in place so that information is effectively shared, and often use emails as a springboard to open up conversations in between the times we can find to connect in person. Continually building community within the team is important to maintain a supportive work culture so we plan get-togethers that create an opportunity to reconnect on a personal level, through sharing a few drinks or playing games that make us laugh.

So that I don’t bring the stresses of work demands into my home life I prioritise making time for myself with some retail therapy or going to the gym. If I’ve had a big day, I watch something funny or talk to friends. I choose to keep my life simple and not overcomplicate things by committing to things that don’t’ suit the lifestyle I want for my family and I’ve learned that an essential part of self-care is maintaining healthy emotional barriers in the work that I do.

I will never forget my first ‘feels’ person - my way of saying, I became emotionally invested. A young woman came to us and she had was struggling with her mental health. I went with her into consults with doctors as a support person to provide the sense of security she felt she needed. It was confronting for us both, because I’d never witnessed anything like that before and it humbled me to know that my presence made a positive difference for her.

She was very involved in creating her care plan and identified what she needed to feel safe and begin her recovery journey. Our Team liaised with the police, and other services, and cooperated with the social worker to support her through legal matters. Through it, I learned about setting healthy emotional barriers.

I believe we need to keep finding better ways to deal with geographical isolation and distance in expanding our services. Living in isolation can make people in remote communities more vulnerable to mental health issues yet it is often the case that they might only have access once a month to psychiatric care in their area. I would love to see our reach increase and communication grow between Flourish Australia’s rural teams and urban centres.

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