Maryborough woman Tracey Smith among Victoria's first Certificate IV in Mental Health Peer Work graduates

MARYBOROUGH woman Tracey Smith has struggled with severe depression for most of her life. 

Last week, she graduated with her second qualification in mental health – a Certificate IV in Mental Health Peer Work. 

“I’d like to advocate for people who have mental illness and stand up for those who can’t articulate themselves,” Ms Smith said. 

But to do so, she has had to identify and confront her challenges. 

Self-reflection was critical to the course she just completed. 

Ms Smith said students were encouraged to reflect on who they were, on their journeys, and how their experiences could have been different. 

“It’s really hard to face some of those things,” she said. 

Twice during the past 18 months she felt she did not have the strength to go on studying. 

“With the support of classmates, tutors and mentors you kind of get through it,” Ms Smith said. 

In addition to tackling some of the issues that held her back in the past, she now has the opportunity to help others learn from the insights she’s gained. 

“I didn’t get past school at the age of 14 but this course has given me confidence in myself, and in my ability to be able to help others get through tough times. To believe that they’re worthwhile,” Ms Smith said.

She was among eight of the first people in Victoria to graduate from the nationally recognised Certificate IV in Mental Health Peer Work. 

A lived experience of mental ill health and recovery was a pre-requisite for the course, which is provided by VICSERV and Wodonga TAFE.

“As the peak body for community managed mental health services in Victoria, VICSERV recognises that peer workers play an invaluable role in supporting mental health recovery,” VICSERV chief executive officer Angus Clelland said. 

Students gained practical experience from placements at organisations such as Anglicare, Golden City Support Services, Care Connect, AfterCare, Life Without Barriers and Mind-Australia.

Ms Smith was one of five graduates that did a placement with Anglicare, and said her mentor was a key part of her support network while completing the course.

Anglicare community services manager Phil Eddy said peer mentors made a “tremendous” difference to clients.

“Their lived experiences might be different, but they share similarities such as navigating the medical system,” Mr Eddy said.

Ms Smith was diagnosed with severe depression 10 years ago, at the age of 45.

However, she said she had endured the condition since she was about 15.

“It’s a big thing to carry around on your own,” Ms Smith said.

Her latest certificate is in addition to an earlier qualification in mental health. 

Murray Primary Health Network supported students from rural and regional areas to complete the mental health peer work course by offering scholarships.

“By understanding the lived experience of consumers and carers, we can help provide levels of service that meet their individualised needs,” Murray PHN chief executive officer Matt Jones said.

“Everyone deserves to receive the right care, in the right place and at the right time.”

He said the scholarships were part of a system change, based on recommendations from the National Mental Health Commission.