Deputy Commissioner, Mental Health Commission of NSW
General Manager, Inclusion, Flourish Australia
“We need to use our lived experience purposefully, not only in one-on-one discussions with people, but systematically”.
Fay Jackson is Deputy Commissioner of the Mental Health Commission of NSW and General Manager, Inclusion at Flourish Australia, but her career in the mental health sector started in the small town halls and conference rooms dotted across Australia.
“I started doing voluntary work about 20 years ago as a public speaker for beyondblue and the Rotary Health Research Fund,” Fay explains. “I travelled all over Australia giving speeches about living with mental health issues and recovery.”
One night, a director of New South Wales’ Illawarra health service was in the audience. He offered Fay a job as a part time peer worker, and she took to it with relish.
“Back then, we didn’t really have a job description. I did a lot of advocacy, both individual and systemic advocacy, because that was my interest. I did a lot of talking with people, hearing them. I represented people or sat beside them at their hearings at the Mental Health Tribunal. I supported people in court actions; while they talked to their doctors and families; with staying in or getting back to work. I advocated for people with the police and I sat on dozens of committees.”
Within a year she was promoted to a full time role, then later a managerial role, overseeing seven staff, and was then promoted to the role of Director of Consumer, Carer and Community Affairs.
With an awareness and belief that she could make a difference beyond New South Wales’ healthcare system, Fay decided to found her own training and consultancy firm, Vision in Mind. As a consultant, she advised government, non-government and corporate clients including public hospitals, the armed forces, and multinationals like Shell about mental health in the workplace. It gave Fay experience in presenting on national and international stages.
“It was long hours, running my own business, but I was able to have a completely independent voice,” Fay says.
When the role of General Manager, Inclusion became vacant at mental health service provider Flourish Australia, Fay forwarded the ad to her networks.
“People kept saying, ‘what are you doing? YOU should be applying for this role’.”
She did, and was successful. Among her achievements has been leading the ‘Why Not a Peer Worker?’ strategy.
“When I started at Flourish Australia although 42% of our staff identified as having lived experience, we only had 22 identified peer worker positions, which really surprised me. I started having conversations about why,” Fay says.
As a result of the ‘Why not a peer worker?’ initiative, peer worker numbers swelled from 22 to 139 over a 12 month period.
Fay says she’s seen attitudes to peer workers shift “in some ways, in some people, in some places”. But there’s still a long way to go.
“Some people still seem to think that the only experience peer workers and people in other designated lived experience roles such as mine have, is our lived experience. Employers, services and the public need to respect our career experience and professional experience as well.
“What I love about the great bosses I’ve had over the years is that they appreciate me, they know I bring experience and richness they can’t provide, we are all members of a well rounded team and they don’t feel threatened by me. They embrace my lived experience but also my expertise in the field of mental health and recovery.
“I’m proud to have been a peer worker. As Deputy Commissioner I am convinced that designated lived experience positions, at all levels and in all services, must be instituted and respected if we are to meet the needs of individuals, families, carers and the community.”