Untapped potential of those who have mental illness | Daily Telegraph

Thu Oct 3, 2013

We should all pay attention when the most respected names in social policy, business, bureaucratic, not -for profit and media circles speak out about what's required to make quality of life better for those with a lived experience of mental illness.

Mental health champion and former Australian of the Year Professor Patrick McGorry, Mental Health Commissioner Professor Allan Fels, The Social Inclusion Board and the Business Council of Australia have all had a say in recent times, and there are some common themes that shouldn't be ignored. One is that there should be more focus on practical and often simple approaches and solutions that can make a huge difference to the lives of those who live with a mental illness.

As one of Australia's foremost not-for-profit service providers, RichmondPRA provides community-based support for people with a mental illness. Organisations such as ours are more often than not a safety net for people living with the most serious kinds of mental illness. These are some of the most disadvantaged and isolated people in the country.

Billions of dollars have been pledged in recent years to deliver more mental health services and make them more accessible, a development which should be applauded. But how money is spent on the ground and how it reaches those most in need is the key. We need to build our excellent but disparate Commonwealth and state -funded programs into a clear and accessible system so that people with a lived experience of mental illness, their carers and families can get the help they need at the earliest opportunity.

This is the best way of ensuring that people with a lived experience remain well and a valued part of local communities. It also keeps them away from costly and isolating experiences in hospitals, courts and jails. Or, worse still, suicide. Of course, employment plays an important part in everyone's life, and it is no different for people with a lived experience of mental illness.

But the reality is, severe mental illness remains a massive barrier to achieving employment.

So what can be done? Recognition and understanding is a good starting point. Employers who recognise and understand that an employee living with a mental illness is like any other employee can make a massive difference. With supportive management, people living with mental illness who may be re- entering the workforce can become contributing and productive employees.

My challenge to employers is this take a look at how you can access the enormous untapped potential of people who live with mental illness.

>> Read more on attached PDF.