People with a lived experience of mental health issues are increasingly taking up important roles in Victoria’s mental health system. cohealth mental health peer worker, Snezana, shares how her past experience of mental ill-health gives her a unique ability to support her clients.
Fifteen years ago when Brimbank resident, Snezana was in and out of hospital struggling with mental health issues. She could never have predicted that one day she’d be using her experience to help others.
Snezana’s mental health issues first started in her teens, but she never fully acknowledged them until she was in her 30s.
“I’d been working in advertising which was exciting but as I worked my way up the corporate ladder it became more stressful with greater demands,” says Snezana.
After a series of involuntary hospitalisations and late-night ambulance callouts, Snezana said she felt lost and isolated.
“I felt like a walking diagnosis. If I’d had someone working with me who had been through a similar experience, I think my recovery would have been much quicker and easier. I just needed someone who could say, ‘I get it. I’ve been there. Things can get better.’”
Thirteen years on Snezana is now using her own experience of mental ill-health as the basis for helping her clients.
“When I found out there were jobs where I could use my lived experience, I felt like a door was opening. I’d always been interested in mental health and psychology.”
“One of my colleagues at a previous workplace showed me an ad for cohealth’s lived experience cadetship program and I applied.”
Snezana has now been working at cohealth for seven years after completing her cadetship and going on to become a mental health lived experience worker. She has also started a Bachelor in Social Science major in Behavioural Studies.
“As a lived experience worker, you’re able to use part of your journey to help make change and provide hope. It’s about connection. You can make connections with someone through mutuality, and that’s very powerful, and empowering,” says Snezana.
Snezana says that being good at her job also means knowing where to draw boundaries.
“When I do share, I only share what I feel appropriate. I also question whether what I’m sharing is of benefit to the client. That takes time and practice.”
“I say to them, ‘This is what worked for me’, but I always remind them that it is only my experience.
“Ultimately, no two people will have the same experience because our life journeys are different. Although people may feel lost, they’re still the expert in what they need. They may need guidance, but they know what’s best for them.”
Snezana recently began working in cohealth’s mental health and wellbeing hub in Brimbank.
“The thing I love about this program is we’re supporting people with mental health barriers who may never have accessed help before, or even known they had mental health issues. This program helps people with difficulties that have arisen due to COVID whether it’s related to finances, work or relationships,” says Snezana.
“I get to meet people in their homes and out in the community. I meet people where they’re at.”
“Some clients that I am working with are struggling with relationships, work demands, home schooling and juggling being a parent. People are stretched to the limit. So, we talk about coping tools and strategies.”
“I never would have believed you 15 years ago if you told me I’d be studying and working as a mental health worker. But it all started with that first step.”