Metropol Inspire: Harnessing the power of experience

Championing change in mental healthcare are two researchers from University of Canterbury, who hope to transform the service provided by working with those who have experienced it firsthand.

Adopting a new way of researching the mental healthcare service is proving beneficial for UC public health Senior Lecturer Dr Kaaren Mathias and Associate Professor and investigator Dr Annabel Ahuriri-Driscoll.

Driving the research is Aotearoa’s “significant mental health crisis”, says Ahuriri-Driscoll. “Mental health is an unseen aspect of our wellbeing that has been stigmatised for many years,” she explains.

Annabel Ahuriri-Driscoll (left) and Kaaren Mathias

The research explores how well these services respond to the needs of those receiving mental healthcare, through working with service users with lived experience, to build a kinder, more accessible system. The team interviewed 29 people throughout the West Coast and Canterbury, including 18 who’d experienced mental health services, and eight who now work in mental healthcare. They says results so far have demonstrated a valuable contribution coming from service users, with an enhanced ability to connect with patients empathetically.

With a strong interest in Māori mental health and experiences herself in the mental healthcare system, Ahuriri-Driscoll holds insight into the “absolute powerlessness”, felt by patients. Working with people who have used the service is key. “I think many kaupapa Māori providers are already engaging with people who have lived experiences of mental health providers and harnessing their expertise for peer support roles. It’s integral to how they work; based on building meaningful relationships with whānau and community,” Ahuriri-Driscoll explains.

“Services need to accommodate and respond to the whole of a person including their ethnicity, culture and beliefs, and if they can’t do that, then it’s not going to work.”

Adopt the same energy
The concept of Ahuriri-Driscoll and Mathias’ work mirrors an attitude that can be adopted by all. Take these two motivational Canterbury women and their work as inspiration to apply such a technique to your life. Thinking outside of the box, Ahuriri-Driscoll and Mathias looked instead to the strength that comes with community. This provided better insight and knowledge to power their research and findings, rather than using what was easily and readily available.

Talking to others and utilising your network are both ways to implement this ingenuity.
• In moments of overwhelm, worry, or uncertainty, look to your community, and those who have experienced similar things. Communicate and share together.
• Take advantage of the concepts of empathy and relatability, and build connections that can offer a new outlook or way forward.

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