HAD someone told Jo Rasmussen she would win a national award for mental health advocacy, back when she needed the system's help most, she likely wouldn't have believed it.
"Had it not been for my case manager recognising I had some skills in advocating for others I probably wouldn't have gone down this path," Ms Rasmussen said.
"I didn't know it existed."
It has been six years since Ms Rasmussen got her first gig in mental health, volunteering as part of a mental health consumer participation group.
Today, she works as a strategic projects coordinator at Murray Primary Health Network.
Momentum is growing around one of the projects Ms Rasmussen has championed, called Stop Stigma.
As the name suggests, the project aims to reduce stigma by promoting an understanding of mental illness and the importance of creating environments where people feel supported and respected.
More than 70 organisations, nationwide, have signed the Stop Mental Illness Stigma Charter developed as part of the initiative.
They range from student associations to football-netball clubs.
A participant from @LMCLPvic let me know today that they successfully delivered 12 stop stigma packs to 12 politicians whilst in Canberra. I couldn’t be prouder of this group & the leadership they’ve shown Looking forward to hearing all about it @MurrayPHNhttps://t.co/Ogyn8YWlW3— Jo Rasmussen (@Rasmussen_Jo_) September 11, 2019
The Stop Stigma message recently spread to Australia's political capital. Ms Rasmussen said a Loddon Murray Community Leadership Program participant had let her know they had delivered 12 Stop Stigma packs to 12 politicians while in Canberra.
"I am very proud of the fact organisations have been getting involved," she said.
Ms Rasmussen was also part of the first cohort of Australian Mental Health Leaders Fellowship recipients, through the National Mental Health Commission.
Work she was involved in producing around a mental health perspective of My Health records was recognised with the inaugural award for outstanding group project.
The award was named in honour of the late National Mental Health Commissioner Jackie Crowe, who was a friend and mentor to Ms Rasmussen.
"It was especially emotional for me to receive that award," she said.
The work was adapted into a pamphlet, which Ms Rasmussen said allowed people considering a My Health Record from a mental health perspective to make an informed decision.
The Australian Digital Health Agency took the information on board.
Ms Rasmussen is on the National Mental Health Digital Gateway's advisory group as a national consumer representative.
She was also invited to be part of the National Stigma Report Card advisory group, which explores stigma and discrimination experienced by people living with complex mental illness.
"Within the Primary Health Network I've been doing a lot of work on Psychosocial Recovery Services," Ms Rasmussen said.
She and the colleague who nominated her for recognition as 'Advocate of the Year' in the National Mental Health Awards are among the leaders in that work, which helps people with severe mental illness.
Ms Rasmussen said she was humbled to have been named Advocate of the Year.
"There are a lot of people out there that do a lot of work that don't get the opportunity to be recognised," she said.
But she said she was also very proud of the work achieved.
She hoped to use the platform offered by the Mental Health Foundation of Australia's recognition to promote local concerns.
Ms Rasmussen said she was passionate about the use of people with a lived experience in the design and delivery of mental health services.
"We won't get a good mental health system if it doesn't include us in the design of the system," she said.
The benefits of peers working with clients are becoming more widely recognised, and roles are being incorporated into more organisations.
But Ms Rasmussen said there was certainly more work to be done.
Similarly, she believed there had been progress on reducing stigma, but there was a great deal more to do.
I am so very humbled and surprised to share that today I received notification from @MHFAus that I have been selected in the National Mental Health Awards as “Advocate of the Year”. My thanks goes to the people who support me, including the team @MurrayPHN— Jo Rasmussen (@Rasmussen_Jo_) September 10, 2019
Ms Rasmussen was hopeful Victoria's Royal Commission into Mental Health would improve outcomes for people living with a mental health issue.
"It'll be interesting to see what comes out of it," she said.
"I just hope this is not another plan that sits on the shelf. I really do hope we see substantial change that comes out of this process."
Murray Primary Health Network chief executive Matt Jones said it was fantastic that the significant and effective advocacy work Ms Rasmussen had been delivering at local, state and national levels was being recognised by the Mental Health Foundation of Australia.
"Murray PHN is very proud of Jo's efforts and thrilled that the National Mental Health Advocate of the Year is one of our team," he said.
Ms Rasmussen encouraged anyone accessing the mental health system to provide feedback, where it felt right for them to do so.
"It can be as simple as using a survey," she said.
She said people with lived experience had insights to offer about what was, or wasn't, working and why.
"People don't always see it," Ms Rasmussen said.
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