Elizabeth Harlow's Story

My caring nature was ignited during early childhood years spent among people at the nursing homes where my mother worked.
Elizabeth Harlow

I’m driven to bring joy to people’s lives and I maintain my energy to keep pouring into that by being religious about simple rituals that draw a line between my fast paced workplace and a happy home life. 

Up until June last year my focus was working with young people and leading Flourish Australia’s Youth Community Living Support Service (YCLSS) program. Now I’m running three programs, including a Primary Care Psychiatry Liaison Service (PCPLS), which places psychiatrists in GP practices to support GPs and practice staff support people with lived experience; and Partners in Recovery which connects people, who might otherwise find it hard to connect with services, to make those connections that  support their daily life and recovery goals.

I wear many different hats on any given day. Relating with a young person requires very different language to connecting with a 50 year old who is having difficulty with parenting. With so much going on around me, all the time, it’s important to stay grounded, so I do a lot of deep breathing to keep myself centred.

As my workload has increased I’ve become more disciplined with my time outside of work so that I can take good care of myself and shake it all off at the end of each day.  I devote the first hour of every morning to sitting in silence, free from all technology and distractions, and just listen to the native birdcalls outside my window. When I get home from work, I’m like a cop that hangs up their uniform once they’re off duty; I maintain simple rituals to transition from problem-solving to home life. Once a month I unplug completely and go for a long hike through the national park or along the beach, to re-set and re-charge.

It has taken me some time to get used to the title of Manager and step back from being so hands-on, out in the field. I got into this sector to make a difference to people’s lives and I believe connecting with them, face to face, to find out what they need and see things from their perspective, is so important.

In my younger years, I found myself trying to navigate a bewildering public health system and find support for high school friends who were experiencing mental health issues. It was so frustrating to watch them lose their sense of self as a result of not having a voice in their situation, so supporting people to take back their power and regain control of their lives is what I love most about the work I do now.  For some people, just being able to say what they want can be an enormous step if they’ve been burned by their experiences with certain services, so we focus on supporting them to make informed choices for themselves.

I find it so rewarding to see the staff I train step-up and keep growing on their mental health career path.  Flourish Australia is a good name for our organisation because it really is what we support people to do. I strive to create an interactive work environment where people feel confident to voice their opinions and we are all, constantly evolving.

I’m particularly proud of what we’ve achieved with our outreach program for young people, though the journey hasn’t been an easy one. We lost one of the young people we were supporting to suicide, which is the leading cause of death among Australia’s young people, even though I had invested so much of myself into developing a program that could really dig in and come alongside these kids.  It hit hard at that point in my career and motivates me to keep looking for even better ways to recognise and support the people who are silently suffering.

I check in frequently with our Peer Workers and Mental Health Workers to make sure they are ok with what they are doing, because their state of mind and wellbeing has a flow-on effect to the people we are supporting.

Something I would like to do more of is a Youth Formal that we held recently, to give young people a life experience that they may have missed out on, due to financial difficulties, life circumstances or mental health precluding them. I first put the idea forward back in 2012 but needed to build a wider support network to get it off the ground, so a Young People’s Advisory Committee was set up to work out how young people could get the most out of the event. The community support that followed was overwhelming and the CBA Graduate Committee contributed substantial financial support. The opportunity to bring something like that to life and build community in the process is one of the highlights of working here, for me.

In my own time, I travel to learn how other cultures approach mental health. To one culture, spending time alone can be viewed as unhealthy, while another culture sees it as being spiritual. I try to work in a way that honours cultural diversity and brings together many different schools of thought.

Looking to the future, I am working on finding ways of harnessing technology to connect with young people in their rooms, where they are choosing to spend a lot of their time. I would like to see a youth NDIS, designed specifically to meet the needs of our nation’s young people, and I hope to play a part in establishing more LGBTQI services. As part of my journey in flourishing at Flourish Australia, I work alongside incredible and unique individuals and always look forward to fighting the good fight with them.

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