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Issue One:
Western Sydney Recovery College

Western Sydney Recovery College (WSRC) delivers mental health workshops to anyone living, studying, working or providing services within the Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) area. Delivered by One Door Mental Health and free of charge, the programs are offered in locations across Western Sydney including Parramatta, Blacktown, Auburn and Mt Druitt. WSRC operates at the intersection of education and mental health and empowers individuals on their journey to mental wellness. In Western Sydney specifically, which is home to diverse cultural population groups, engaging with mental health services can be difficult due to factors such as low mental health literacy and lingering stigmas. Utilising the cultural expertise of educators ensures that educators are able to aid in both cultural and literal translations of the course content. This helps to better engage and educate students from different cultural or linguistic backgrounds.

“Recovery Colleges are education-based approaches to supporting mental health and wellbeing. Strongly based on principles of co-design, Recovery Colleges complement existing mental health support services by delivering self-directed recovery and learning opportunities in safe and welcoming places… Recovery Colleges are now in operation in a number of countries around the world, including Australia.” – Meddings et al., 2015, as cited in Western Australia Mental Health Commission (2018).

WSRC uses a co-production method within a recovery-oriented framework to model how they would like to see recovery support in the broader mental health system. Individuals with lived experience work hand-in-hand with those with learned experience to facilitate optimal recovery outcomes. Their work model also reflects the recommendations across the whole of greater Western Sydney, where peer-led co-design approaches, local service access, and the importance of catering to cultural and linguistic diversity in care were highlighted as key to improving mental health outcomes in greater Western Sydney (Mental Health Commission of NSW, 2020). WSRC delivers an average of 80 mental health courses every year, including accredited courses such as Mental Health First Aid and Cultural Competency. Courses are designed with a two-year cycle in mind allowing for periodic reviews and evaluations of students’ experiences and personal outcomes, to make adjustments that meet the evolving needs of students. Each of these courses teaches students that recovery is not necessarily an absence of symptoms, but rather a journey of learning to live with symptoms and still build a meaningful life.

WSRC successfully navigates their position of being an educational institution sitting within the mental health sector. Through this educational approach to adult mental health, students are able to engage with the content in a pressure-free and non-clinical way while also reaping the therapeutic benefits. WSRC embraces the principle that knowledge is power, focusing on learning for the sake of learning rather than imposing exams at the end of the courses. Unlike conventional one-on-one or group therapeutic sessions, this approach treats individuals like students rather than patients or carers. Those who attend courses do so of their own accord, and disclose their experiences at their own pace and comfort. Additionally, some unexpected outcomes have arisen through WSRC’s work in the community that have stretched beyond these workshops. There are anecdotal stories of Arabic students learning English through these courses, as well as their level of engagement with their Primary Health Network (PHN) increasing afterwards as a direct result of their participation.

WSRC has collaborated with a variety of organisations and institutions, including Cumberland Hospital, CatholicCare, and Gambling NSW, to address specific mental health issues within diverse communities. These partnerships enable WSRC to tap into expertise from various fields, including bilingual, Indigenous, and lived-experience staff and educators. All in all, WSRC owes its success to its tailored approach to recovery and education within the Western Sydney area, and its acknowledgement of the need for the recovery journey to not solely rest in the hands of a clinician or other health professional, but also in the hands of the individuals themselves.

Evidence in practice
Co-production method within a recovery-oriented framework: Co-production describes the collaborative effort of individuals with lived experience of mental health issues and professionals to deliver services. Co-production is based on the notion that service users and providers have a mutual understanding of what treatments and outcomes are valuable (Owens and Cribb 2012, Palumbo 2016; as cited in Norton, 2019). It is a fundamental component of the Recovery College model (Western Australia Mental Health Commission, 2018).
An educational approach to adult mental health emphasises recovery through education, which equips people with the knowledge, skills and supports needed to live independently, self-manage their care, and find meaningful social roles in their community. This approach has shown to provide positive outcomes in the individual’s mental health literacy and treatment, quality of life, empowerment, and employment (Onken et al., 2007; Gammonley and Luken, 2001; as cited in Cook et al., 2012).

Cook, J.A., Steigman, P., Pickett, S., Diehl, S., Fox, A., Shipley, P., MacFarlane, R., Grey, D.D., Burke- Miller, J.K. (2012). Randomized controlled trial of peer-led recovery education using Building Recovery of Individual Dreams and Goals through Education and Support (BRIDGES).     Schizophrenia Research, 136(1–3), 36-42. doi: 10.1016/j.schres.2011.10.016

Mental Health Commission of NSW. (2020). Living Well Mid Term Review 2019-2020. Available from https://www.nswmentalhealthcommission.com.au/content/living-well-mid-term-review

Norton, M. (2019). Implementing co-production in traditional statutory mental health services. Mental Health Practice [DRAFT]. doi: 10.7748/mhp.2019.e1304

Western Australia Mental Health Commission. (2018). Literature review to inform the development of Recovery Colleges in Western Australia. Available from https://www.mhc.wa.gov.au/media/2329/final-recovery-college-literature-review-28-march-2018.pdf

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