Designing safe, inclusive workplaces for consumer mental health workers

A new report recommends ways to make workplaces safe and inclusive for consumer mental health workers.

Consumer workers are people who have used mental health services and who also work in the sector themselves. They improve the quality of mental health care for others by providing support and advocacy that draw on their experiences.

Yet, they often work in isolation and get less support than other staff.

The report Leading the change: Co-producing safe, inclusive workplaces for consumer mental health workers is designed to help mental health care services improve the experiences of consumer workers.

It was developed by consumer workers and researchers at the Melbourne Social Equity Institute, through a partnership between the University and the Victorian Mental Illness Awareness Council.

It makes seven recommendations, including:

  • Increase the number of consumer workers in mental health care, including in management and leadership roles
  • Engage consumer workers as co-producers to create or change approaches to workplace support. This includes education, professional development and human resource processes
  • Develop resources and training for mental health services with consumer experts to help organisations hire and support consumer workers
  • Support the development of consumer-led organisations in the mental health sector.

According to the report, consumer workers detail high levels of discrimination and often feel excluded in the workplace. Almost 60 per cent feel that others in the workplace make judgements about their personal mental health experiences.

Consumer mental health workers also report that they lack power and influence in their role, and their expertise is often dismissed. For example, one worker said:

“It’s a very hierarchical system and the psychiatrist is at the top of the tree and when the psychiatrist doesn’t even acknowledge you saying hello to them in the hallway, it’s very hard to kind of feel like anything you say is valid … it’s hard when you’re meant to be in a team with people that don’t consider you part of their team.”

Researchers developed the report from surveys, interviews and focus groups that looked at:

  • resources and support for consumer workers
  • bullying
  • confidentiality in the workplace
  • training and professional opportunities
  • safety and discrimination.

Read the report (PDF)
Read the report (Word)

Banner image: Changes to workplace agreements could support consumer workers. For example, standards for professional development or study leave.

First published on 12 February 2021.

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Research updatesMelbourne Social Equity Institute