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Get Real: Talking mental health & disability
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Get Real: Talking mental health & disability

Author: The team at ermha365

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What’s it like to live with a mental health condition, or a disability, or both? How can we make life better for people who face these complex challenges in their lives? GET REAL presents frank and fearless conversations about mental health and disability, including people with lived experience, frontline workers in the industry, as well as policy-makers and advocates. Hosted by Robyn Haydon and Karenza Louis-Smith & produced by Emily Webb, on behalf of ermha365 Complex Mental Health and Disability Services (
35 Episodes
Over summer, we’re revisiting some of our favourite GET REAL episodes of 2020. Caring for Carers was our first episode, recorded in early 2020, and is still one of our favourites. In this episode, we talk to Lynn and SJ, both carers with lived experience, about what it’s really like to support someone with a complex mental health issue or a disability, and how we can better care for carers – especially during challenging times. We hope you enjoy it. For more GET REAL episodes, go to
Melbourne-based author and teacher Ruth Clare’s memoir Enemy has been critically acclaimed and described as “Weaving a striking personal narrative with a revelatory exploration of the effects of war”. Ruth is a survivor of childhood violence. Her father, traumatised from service in the Vietnam War, was violent and unpredictable. In this episode of GET REAL Ruth talks about her journey of healing from childhood violence and understanding the connection with her father’s wartime service and his behaviour.  On writing her memoir, Ruth says: “I kept waiting for the book that was like my story to appear…I kept waiting and waiting…and no one was writing about it…”. Ruth also shares openly and passionately about taking stigma away from the act of seeking help for mental health, being brave and her advocacy for the specific barriers that children experiencing violence in the home face in getting the support they need.  CONTENT NOTE: If you’ve been affected by anything you’ve heard in this episode you can phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or go to Open Arms is a counselling and support service for veterans and their families with a 24hr phone line on 1800 011 046 and online resources You can find out more about Ruth at her website ermha365 provides a range of mental health services designed to help people experiencing mental health challenges to thrive in the community. 
A musical may not be the first thing that comes to mind as a way to convey the experiences of mental illness and how people cope in a crisis.  However, in this episode of GET REAL we speak to two people who will be bringing to the stage a rock musical that’s been described as “an unflinching look at a suburban family struggling with the effects of mental illness”. The show centres around a mother who is traumatised by loss and the unpredictable effects sparked by her bipolar diagnosis. Our guests are director Mark Taylor and actress Queenie van de Zandt who talk about their upcoming production of Next to Normal in Melbourne. Next to Normal is a Tony Award-winning musical that debuted on Broadway in 2009. Since then the production has been staged around the world and was also awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2010. As we recorded this episode, Melbourne was in a snap lockdown due to COVID-19 transmissions and Mark and Queenie also talk about the impact the pandemic has had on the arts and how they’ve been taking care of their own mental health. Next to Normal runs at Chapel Off Chapel Theatre in Melbourne from 15 July to 25 July 2021 CONTENT NOTE: If you’ve been affected by anything you’ve heard in this episode you can phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or go to ermha365 provides a range of mental health services designed to help people experiencing mental health challenges to thrive in the community. 
For this episode of GET REAL, we are joined by Ray Blessing who shares his experience of parenting his transgender son Oisin. It’s an honest and touching conversation about the journey Ray and his family have travelled as they supported Oisin through his transition, and the additional aspects of mental health and addiction that have been part of this journey.Ray speaks compassionately and candidly about the struggles, the joys and the ongoing learnings the family has experienced. He also acknowledges that while the Blessing family received support from their network when they told them about Oisin’s transition, he knows this isn’t the case for all families. Ray also talks about the need for more holistic support from schools for children and their families who are experiencing challenges, not only academically but socially and emotionally.And he asks an important question: “How do you wrap support around a family when there’s a struggling child?”.It’s a question that’s not only applicable for people with a transgender child, but for all families who have a child who is struggling in areas of their lives.For another perspective on this important topic, and if you missed it, check out last fortnight’s episode with Lauren McGovern talking about growing up trans in Tasmania in the 1980s and ‘90s; the trauma imposed by decades of being someone other than who she really was inside; and her joy at coming out as trans at the age of 45.Content note: If you have been affected by anything discussed in this podcast you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14.For mental health support, go to
The findings of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System are something that will shape the future of mental health services, not just in Victoria but potentially across Australia. Every year around one in five Victorians experience mental health issues, and about 3 per cent of the population — roughly 200,000 people — have a "severe" mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.The final report from the royal commission has found that Victoria's mental health system operates in crisis mode, has "catastrophically failed to live up to expectations" and must be rebuilt.There are 65 recommendations outlined in the report (the Victorian Government says it will implement all of them) including the phasing out of seclusion and restraints treatments over the next decade, and making compulsory treatments an option of last resort.So, what’s next now that the report is on the table and the real work of implementing its recommendations is about to start?We invited Angus (Gus) Clelland, CEO Mental Health Victoria and VMIAC CEO Maggie Toko for their take on what the recommendations mean for mental health services - and the next steps. More information:Mental Health Victoria - - Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System Final Report - Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System Final Report 
In this episode you will hear our special guest Sue Roff, Executive Director at Arts Project Australia and ermha365’s Georgia Symmons explore how the arts and creativity have the power to unleash potential, support recovery and inspire and challenge what is possible for people who are living with mental health conditions and disability.Arts Project Australia is a creative social enterprise that supports artists with intellectual disabilities through their studio and gallery, promoting their work and advocating for their inclusion in contemporary art practice. Here are the links to the exciting new initiatives mentioned in this episode:Satellite Arts is a remote program giving artists the opportunity to engage with the APA studio from any location in Australia. From Monday 19 April 2021, sessions run each Tuesday and Thursday on Zoom supported by professional staff artists. Artists in this program can expect to develop and critically reflect on their artistic practice, and engage with contemporary art communities via online exhibitions, studio and gallery visits, artist talks and curator presentations. is an inclusive, curated international art platform that commissions and presents collaborations between artists from supported studios, artist peers and arts professionals – elevating diverse voices and creative practices.Collingwood Yard is the new location of the Arts Project Australia gallery, previously in Northcote, in a freshly remodelled space in Melbourne’s inner north.For more on ermha365's mental health programs, including the new Hive program in Geelong, check out our website.
People with a disability are chronically over-represented in the criminal justice system in Australia, making up 29% of the prison population, despite being only 18% the general population.This is a situation that has to change, something that the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability is hearing very clearly.Today Karenza Louis-Smith from ermha365 talks to Patrick McGee, national manager for policy, advocacy and research at the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations, and Eileen Baldry AO, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Equity Diversity and Inclusion and Professor of Criminology at UNSW Sydney.We have only just scratched the surface of this very important topic – expect to hear more later this year. 
In this powerful and moving episode of GET REAL, the first in our Lived Experience series for this year, we are joined by special guest Susan Berg. At 15, Susan Berg was the sole survivor of a boating accident that claimed the lives of her Mum, Dad and 16-year old brother, Bill. Suffering from survivor guilt, she delved into a miserable life of self-loathing, anxiety and despair. It took Susan decades to learn the tools to heal her heart and find peace and happiness within herself. In 2015 Susan’s autobiography "The Girl Who Lived", was published. Then in 2017, as part of her ongoing recovery journey - and after 14 months of intense training -  she faced her 30-year crippling fear of water and swam the 1.2km Lorne Pier to Pub.  Susan is now an ultra-marathon swimmer, training for a solo crossing of the English Channel!Susan is passionate about helping others overcome personal obstacles and has developed "Dare the Impossible", weekend getaways, retreats and workshops, providing people with the tools for resilience, and inspiring them to heal their lives and fulfil their dreams.  Susan chats with Georgia Symmons - ermha365’s Victorian State Manager of Strategy and Service Transformation - about her life; her recovery; the challenges she has faced; and the ones she is looking forward to in the future.Susan also shares her thoughts on the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System, in particular, the importance of infusing lived experience into every aspect of the mental health system, including the delivery of mental health services and responding to people in appropriate and effective ways.If you have found any of this discussion distressing, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14.To learn more about Susan, her work, and her journey, please visit more about ermha365’s mental health programs and services, go to 
In our first GET REAL episode of 2021, we are delighted to talk to some very important people at ermha365, who do vital, often unseen work with people experiencing homelessness.At ermha365, we support people with complex needs related to mental health and disability. This sometimes means that the people we support struggle to maintain accommodation, or are homeless, or sleep rough outdoors. In this episode, GET REAL talks to Tim and Rosie, who work in our Community Connect program supporting people experiencing homelessness. Both Tim and Rosie, and our Pathways team, either won or were finalists in ermha365’s staff awards last year – for reasons that will become obvious once you hear about the outreach work they do every day, and continued to do at the even at the height of the pandemic lockdowns in Victoria.Tim and Rosie are joined by Georgia Symmons, our Victorian State Manager of Strategy and Service Transformation, who talks to us about the exciting new initiatives that are coming in the homelessness and housing space. This includes the Victorian Government’s From Homelessness to a Home program and the Big Housing Build, which will ensure that 2,000 more Victorians living with mental illness will soon have a home. 
Over summer, we’re revisiting some of our favourite GET REAL episodes of 2020. It’s February 2021, and not long now until we will see the final report from the Royal Commission into Mental Health in Victoria. The interim report, published in November last year, reflects the Commission’s desire to incorporate lived experience in all aspects of the mental health system, including the delivery of mental health services. In practice, this is likely to mean many more opportunities for peer support workers; people who help others with their mental health in part through their own, lived experience of mental health challenges. In this episode, Karenza Louis-Smith talks with Grace and Donna, who work at ermha365 as peer support workers. We hope you enjoy it.For more GET REAL episodes, go to 
Over summer, we’re revisiting some of our favourite GET REAL episodes of 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has made housing a hot-button issue for government. Since we recorded this episode, the Victorian government alone announced it is pumping $5.3 billion into building more than 12,000 social and affordable housing properties to boost Victoria’s housing supply. Our guests on this episode are movers and shakers in the housing advocacy space, who have been working to change the housing system for many years and achieve this result – among others yet to come. I hope you enjoy this robust discussion.For more GET REAL episodes, go to 
Over summer, we’re revisiting some of our favourite GET REAL episodes of 2020. People living with disabilities and mental health conditions are over-represented in the justice system, something we at ermha365 see in our work every day. In this, one of our most popular episodes, we ask why this happens, and talk about how we amplified these issues by taking them to the Royal Commission on Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Discrimination against People with Disabilities.For more GET REAL episodes, go to
Ingrid Ozols battled mental illness and suicidal ideation. She has loved ones who have succeeded, and others who actively contemplate suicide.  Ingrid not only continues on her wellness and recovery journey, but thrives as a national and global speaker on suicide prevention.  Ingrid’s strength comes from willingness to share her vulnerability.  
Discrimination, in all its forms, is unacceptable.  People who discriminate, and the structures and systems that allow this to happen, must be called out.  Discrimination causes people to lose their self-confidence, make them feel like outsiders – not part of the team; the anger that arises from being ‘othered’ can lead to depression and even suicidal thoughts.  In this fifth episode of our Lived Experience series, special guest Yvonne Sillett talks about the overt, systemic and intense discrimination she experienced as a lesbian woman in the Australian Army, which left her angry, depressed and at times suicidal.  While significant reforms have occurred in the Army and society as a whole over the past two decades, LGBTIQ Victorians continue to experience inequalities. Of particular concern is data on increased rates of depression, psychological distress, self-harm and suicidal ideation. When compared with the rest of the population, LGBTIQ+ people are twice as likely to experience anxiety, and three times as likely to experience depression and related disorders, largely due to the inequalities they experience based on sexuality.Listen to how Yvonne coped, and how she became even more resilient.  Hear how sharing her story not only helped others, but also helped her heal.  Yvonne has also participated in two books: Serving in Silence! (which her story is in) and also the recently released titled Pride in Defence, both written by Noah Riseman and Shirleen Robinson. If you have found any of this discussion distressing, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14.For additional mental health support go to:  ermha365 - Lifeline:  13 11 14 Forums -
Peer workers with lived experience provide an important complement to the psychosocial support teams delivering mental health services.  They improve the recovery orientation of mental health services, by offering genuine and authentic engagement with the people who use these services. This results in a reduction in hospital admissions and reduced load on other practitioners. For many people, peer workers with lived experience offer an improved experience of mental health treatment, care or support because they bring their own stories to their work.  Their depth of understanding of the challenges of mental illness creates real empathy with clients, and also delivers unique insights to their co-workers who don’t have lived experience.  Most importantly, peer workers with lived experience are role models for recovery.  By sharing their journey of recovery, including strategies and techniques that sustain a balanced mental health, these role models exhibit positive, sustainable, and successful recovery.  In this episode of GET REAL: Talking Mental Health and Disability, Karenza Louis-Smith talks with Grace and Donna who work at ermha365 as peer workers, with lived experience of mental health challenges. She is joined by Sharon Sherwood who leads all of ermha365’s mental health programs and services. As ‘Ambassadors’ of recovery, Grace and Donna talk about ‘owning’ their mental illness – the first step to reducing stigma. They also talk about getting the right kind of support that suits you; the value that peer workers bring because of their experience; and the great rewards they receive as peer workers by being able to helps others on the road to recovery. For mental health support go to:ermha365 - Forums -
Imagine for a minute that you’re a young boy in the late ‘60s growing up in country Victoria. Yours is a typical childhood in many ways, but you are a little too fond of getting into trouble. On your twelfth birthday, you are made a Ward of the State and find yourself in Turana Youth Training Centre, starting your apprenticeship for a career of crime, drug addiction, mental illness and homelessness. What happens next? What kind of life will you have? And how do you survive and thrive from such a traumatic experience?This is the story of Steve Cain, our special guest in GET REAL’s second Lived Experience episode. This week, Steve talks to guest host Karenza Louis-Smith about how he embarked on a life as a career criminal at the tender age of 12, immersing himself in a world of drug taking and crime for the next 20 years, until at 35 he decided he wanted his life to be different. And so he set about changing the world – one person, one job, and one dollar at a time.Now the Founder and Program Facilitator at Empathy Not Sympathy, Steve describes his life journey as one that has gone from – in his own words – “the gutter to glory”, overcoming addiction issues and childhood trauma to help others see that in their own lives, nothing is impossible.For more information:ermha365 complex mental health & disability services – Cain, Empathy Not Sympathy - 
In February 2019, the Victorian Government established a Royal Commission on the Mental Health System in Victoria, the first of its kind in Australia. This is a “once in a generation opportunity” to accelerate improvements in mental health services, service navigation and models of care.  Nearly 18 months later, the Royal Commission has made interim recommendations and is due to hand down its final report in February 2021. What are these recommendations? What will they mean for people living with mental health challenges, for their carers and loved ones, and for the service system that provides mental health support? What specific opportunities are likely to come from the Royal Commission’s recommendations in terms of improvements to mental health support, and what kind of gaps and challenges might still remain?This week, GET REAL talks to an expert panel with a real stake in these outcomes, including Angus Clelland, CEO of Mental Health Victoria; Dr Peter Langkamp, former President of Carers Australia; and Karenza Louis-Smith, CEO of ermha365 – a provider of complex mental health and disability services throughout Victoria. 
Having a roof over your head is pretty fundamental to meet basic needs in life. It’s also a fundamental human right. All of us need a stable, long term home so we can thrive, and be the best that we can be.  Unfortunately, inadequate and unsuitable housing is a really big barrier to thriving, for people with high and complex needs associated with mental health and disability. It gets in the way of effectively managing issues associated with that disability or mental health issue, and can prevent people from living productive and meaningful lives.When people live well, they do well. This week, GET REAL talks to a panel of experts all working to solve this big gnarly problem:Joseph Connellan of MC Two, one of Australia’s most respected strategic housing consultants, with 30 years’ experience in human services development and delivery including as Executive Officer of three housing agencies;Charles Northcote, CEO of BlueCHP Limited, currently the largest developer of specialist disability housing in Australia, having delivered some 1700 properties to the social and affordable housing sector while retaining 800 properties (housing over 1490 people) for its own portfolio; andFrances Sanders, Senior Manager of NDIS services at ermha365, who has held executive roles in the mental health sector since 1995 and who works every day on individual cases, helping to surface and to solve the deep challenges associated with finding safe, suitable and therapeutic housing for the people we support. 
This week on GET REAL, we look at what makes support successful when working with people with high and complex needs associated with mental health and disability.At ermha365, where we specialise in delivering this kind of support, we have seen that having a shared approach and a common language – used consistently across our organisation –  is the key to supporting people safely and well. This model of practice is known to us as “the ermha way”.The ermha way model of practice stems from Positive Behaviour Support frameworks, which acknowledge the universality of all human behaviour. This says that we all do the things we do for a reason. So, we need to understand that reason – to be curious, to dig deep, and be ‘behaviour detectives’ – to find out why people behave the way they do. Today you’ll get to hear a fascinating conversation about this topic between three experts in this area:Karenza Louis-Smith, CEO of ermha365Cat Lancaster,  Executive Director of Lancaster Consulting Australia, who worked with the team at ermha365 to design the ermha way, and Teresa McClelland, Chief Operations Officer at ermha365. 
People with complex mental health conditions, along with a range of physical, sensory, and cognitive disabilities, face additional challenges and hardships within the criminal justice system; a system that is difficult for any of us to negotiate. So, when the Royal Commission on Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Discrimination against People with Disabilities released a Paper on Criminal Justice issues, the team at ermha365 – which has long been a lifeline for people who are challenged with complex mental health and disability issues – believed it was particularly important to respond.This week, GET REAL explores the criminal justice system through the lens of complex mental health and disability, including our six-point plan to address the vulnerabilities and challenges of the people we support. Guests include:Karenza Louis-Smith, CEO ermha365, who has extensive experience in Australia with the criminal justice system and how it affects vulnerable people; and Isabel Calvert, Social Policy, Justice and Advocacy Adviser at ermha365, who has worked internationally over many years in criminal justice reform. 
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