Imagine if people experiencing mental health issues could call on a mobilised and collective workforce of professionals who understand what they’re going through and can walk with them towards recovery?

This is the vision of the Mental Health Coalition and Don Dunstan Foundation who have joined forces for one of our latest Discovery Grants, which focus on finding evidence and solutions to unlock important health and social changes.

They are exploring the feasibility and business planning required to create a peer co-operative, which would comprise people who have lived through mental health issues and are now skilled to help others through theirs.

The aim is to unite current peer workers who are self-employed or part time into a cooperative entity. The peer workers would own and work in the cooperative, which could attract work from private clients, the NDIS or non-government organisations.

Mental Health Coalition Lived Experience Program Manager Shandy Arlidge is part of the pioneering group for this project. She said the cooperative model would be of great benefit to those involved and their clients by allowing for more ‘professional supervision, professional development opportunities and peer reflection’. The peer workers would be able to support each-other and their clients would have access to people who deeply understood them.

The cooperative is a vehicle to have a very competent well supported peer workforce, which means the end user is guaranteed a good experience. Roles don’t have to stop at peer support – members of the co-operative could be providing peer supervision, consultancy services to organisations about mentally healthy workforce, or offering skills as a trainer.

Shandy says skilled peer workers are able to draw from their own experience and understandings to offer help to clients and model what recovery could look like. Shandy stresses that recovery in a mental health sense is less about cure and more about ‘living a good life or a meaningful life’.

This type of approach, where the peer worker walks alongside the client, also puts the client into the driver’s seat where they are in control of their own destiny. ‘Even when people are at their most unwell they still need to feel that they have some control,’ she says.

Shandy says the Mental Health Coalition has been working behind the scenes for some time to set up the foundations for this project. ‘Meeting Guy Turnbull, an expert in developing and running cooperatives, through the Don Dunstan Foundation Thinkers in Residence program finally gave us the vehicle for the project. DDF are project partners and Guy will be connected to the project as a mentor.’

“It’s a really exciting project that’s time has come,’ she says.

‘The dream is for 50% of the workforce to be a peer workforce’ adding that she would eventually love to see mentally healthy workplaces where it’s perfectly ok to talk about lived experiences of mental health.