Mental Health Employment Breakthrough: 350 Jobs For People With A Lived Experience Of A Mental Health Issue

Wed Apr 19, 2017

Amidst a trend of declining employment of people with disabilities in Australia, one of the country’s foremost notfor-profit service providers has set a new standard by hiring 350 people with a ‘lived experience’ of a mental health issue.

The target has been reached by Flourish Australia after three years of campaigning and targeted recruiting, aimed at people who identify as living with a mental health issue.

The outcome is believed to be a first, in that no other organisation in Australia employs so many people with mental health issues.

The 350 workers – half of Flourish Australia’s 700-strong workforce – are spread across many positions, from fulltime executive management roles through to part-time support roles.

A key to the outcome is the take-up rate of ‘peer-work’ positions at Flourish Australia, whereby people with a lived experience of a mental health issue are recruited and trained to support others on their recovery journeys. Flourish Australia’s ‘Why Not a Peer Worker?’ employment program has seen many people from all walks of life take up front-line mental health support roles.

Flourish Australia said the employment result demonstrates that people with a mental health issue have the skills, knowledge and experience to contribute to any workplace, despite so often being neglected in the labour market.

“We’ve actively sought people with a lived experience to take up roles with us and the response has been incredible,” Flourish Australia CEO Ms Pamela Rutledge said.

“Given that we’re a not-for-profit supporting people with mental health issues, it’s appropriate that people with a lived experience should make up at least half of our workforce.

“We’re also showing that people with a mental health issue can fill positions across the spectrum of roles in any organisation and perform with distinction.

“We’ve had people with impeccable senior corporate experience and qualifications come forward, through to people looking for a career change and unemployed people looking for a job start.

“Who’d have thought that having a lived experience would be a drawcard for getting a job, when for so long such people have lived with the fear of rejection?”

Flourish Australia Inclusion Manager and NSW Deputy Mental Health Commissioner Fay Jackson - who lives with her own mental health issues - is hopeful the outcome will prompt employers across Australia to take on workers with a lived experience.

“Our door is open for any employer who wants to see how successful employing people with mental health issues can be,” Ms Jackson said.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s a position in finance, IT, service delivery, administration, policy or research. We’re showing that people with a lived experience can deliver if they’re given a chance.

“Whether you’re a not for profit, corporate or government employer, you can make a massive investment by taking on workers with a lived experience.

“We can show very quickly that people with a mental health issue are as - if not more - productive than others, because they’re hungry to prove themselves.

“A key is having the right workplace education, HR and management strategies to boost co-worker understanding of what living with a mental health issue means, and o provide a mentally healthy workplace for all your staff.”

Flourish Australia Director and Psychiatrist Dr Josey Anderson said stable employment was extremely important to recovery when mental health issues are in play.

“One in four people in any 12 month period will experience a mental health issue,” Dr Anderson said.

“Around 50% of the population will be managing a mental health issue at some stage in their lives.

“Stable and meaningful employment is vitally important for anyone on a recovery journey.

“Unemployment can be disastrous and part of a downward mental health spiral, resulting in incalculable economic and social costs. A stable job givesall of us a sense of meaning, stability, participation and independence.

“It’s hard though when stigma and ignorance see people with a lived experience discriminated against and left out of jobs that they’re perfectly capable of filling.

“The Flourish Australia achievement sets a new standard for employing people with mental health issues.”

Flourish Australia cited a recent Productivity Commission report showing that employment of people with disabilities in Australia is in decline.



Flourish Australia (formerly RichmondPRA) is a not-for-profit organisation providing support programs, employment, accommodation and hope for people with mental health issues in New South Wales and Queensland. Advocating community-based assistance, it is a leading mental health support provider that has been in operation for nearly 60 years.