Nurturing the rise of leaders who have personal experience of mental health issues is at the heart of a new research partnership for the Fay Fuller Foundation.

The project, a partnership between the Lived Experience Leadership and Advocacy Network (LELAN) and the Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Research Group (MHSPRG) from the University of South Australia (UniSA), is one of the latest recipients of our Discovery Grants.

LELAN’s Executive Director Ellie Hodges says the aim is to create a future where people with lived experience are seen as leaders in the health system. The research will explore the barriers to this vision, the design of evidence-based training resources to assist potential leaders and the creation of networks to support advocacy in this area.

Mrs Hodges, who herself has lived experience of mental health issues, says this is a critical element of the system because it brings an extra dimension to mental health discussions. She explained that the current biomedical and diagnostic focus in mental health overrides people’s own understanding and the depth of their experiences. ‘It brings a wisdom that can’t be learnt through books or through talking to a thousand people.’

Mrs Hodges says despite the insight that they can bring, people with lived experience are often included in key health discussions as a tokenistic gesture. She wants more of their voices to be heard at the highest levels and for their skills to be valued. ‘There’s a gap in that people with lived experience are not being heard,’ she says. ‘This research asks how do we help people who have experience in mental health or are experiencing a mental health issue to have a voice?’

Professor Nicholas Procter who will lead the research says the partnership with LELAN is a perfect fit as it aligns so strongly with UniSA’s emphasis on collaboration with end users and the day to day workings of the Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Research Group.

We are the only mental health research group in South Australia with an employed lived experience academic. We’ve also embedded lived experience in everything we do.

Professor Procter says lived experience in mental health leadership is critical and there needs to be more than piecemeal and limited approaches.

We need to value lived experience at the highest levels.

He said elevating lived experience in this way would open up new ways of thinking leading to greater problem solving, innovation and, ultimately, structural change to create better mental health services.