ermha365 CEO Blog

Passionate social justice advocate Karenza Louis-Smith

ermha365 CEO Karenza Louis-Smith is a passionate social justice advocate. Her blog tackles a range of issues including stigma and social justice for people with mental illness and disability, the closure of asylums, and the need for better jobs and employment opportunities.

PTSD in first responders and the power of courageous conversations

08 September 2021

Conversations about mental health are important, and it’s the ones we have with each other – our family, friends and colleagues – that can really make a difference.

Our latest episode of GET REAL: Talking Mental Health and Disability is a powerful discussion with John S. Payne, who lives with posttraumatic stress disorder.

John is a veteran who served the Victorian community within Corrections, Government investigations, and as a volunteer firefighter. During a career spanning nearly three decades, he worked on many incidents, including the state’s worst ever fires since colonisation, known as Black Saturday, which started on 7 February 2009. One hundred and seventy-three people died in these devastating fires, and more than 400 were injured.

John detailed his experiences in a memoir, ’What My Eyes Have Seen’, to share his lived experiences with PTSD, which he was diagnosed with a few years after Black Saturday.

Talking to GET REAL, John explains how his PTSD developed over several years, causing panic attacks, impacting on his short-term memory, moods and ability to make decisions, and losing interest in things he used to enjoy. He had to stop working in a career he loved and could no longer be a volunteer firefighter.

It was a conversation with his daughter, who said, “Dad, there’s something wrong”, which propelled John to reach out for help. John says she was the first person who had what he now calls a “courageous conversation” with him about the changes in his personality.

John explains: “I’d gone from being the life of the party to the person who sits in the corner, if you can get me to go. My wife would ask me what I wanted for tea and it was too hard a question to answer…everything just eventually became too difficult”.

Courageous conversations are ones we can all have with people we know.

R U OK? Day is this week (9 September), and it’s a reminder to seek out meaningful conversations and connections with those around us and lend support when they are struggling. There are great resources at the RUOK? website.


Changing the conversation online, parenting and mental illness with Anna Spargo-Ryan

26 August 2021

We all know the world of social media can be negative, sometimes brutal.

But what about its use for good? To open up conversations about mental health?

Our latest episode of Get Real: Talking Mental Health and Disability is with an intriguing guest called Anna Spargo-Ryan. Anna is a is highly regarded Melbourne-based writer and author who cut her teeth working in digital comms for The Australian Grand Prix and the long-running Aussie TV soap Neighbours.

Anna has a way with words and shares her thoughts honestly about mental health on social media, in particular Twitter, where she has more than 19,000 followers. Anna’s using her media platforms to be open about her challenges and making it okay for others to talk about theirs too.

“I’ve been lucky enough to meet people to help me better understand what mental illness is, to better understand what it means to be disabled…Twitter for me is a place that is full of kindness and people who are open to learning more…that’s not true of everyone’s experience though”.

Anna also talked to host Robyn Haydon about her journey with parenthood and living with mental illness.

A mum of two teenagers, Anna was 20 when she had her first child and her existing depression and anxiety changed in a way she didn’t expect.

Anna says: “The main feeling I had when they were small was that they deserved more than someone who was trying to figure it out as she went along…I felt that I didn’t have the skills to manage my own brain well enough for them to rely on me to take care of them, to be there for them. It really challenged my idea of what being there for someone was.”

I think you’ll find this conversation as enlightening as I did.


Talking about women and autism with Jessie Aiton

28 July 2021

I was intrigued by the latest episode of Get Real podcast where we hear from Jessie Aiton, a broadcaster, producer and writer who found out she was autistic at the age of 34.

While working in her high-pressure, fast-paced career in broadcasting, Jessie was going through a journey with her mental health: “I was really fighting for my mental health, I was really wanting to be functioning and getting well…”.

She finally found a doctor who was open to her exploration of whether she could be autistic and this made all the difference.

According to Amaze, the peak body for autistic people and their supporters in Victoria is that in Australia around 1 in 100 Australians is autistic and 85% of the community has a personal connection with an autistic person.

It’s common that autistic adults can be often misdiagnosed with anxiety and other mental health issues. This was Jessie’s experience and is one shared by other women. It can also be that discovering their child is on the spectrum propels women to find out if they are too.

Jessie had inklings she may have been on the autism spectrum:

“I did suspect something was up and I had raised this before with a professional, who was very well meaning but I was told I was too social to be on the spectrum, which is something that a lot of late-diagnosed women hear…”

Discovering she is an autistic woman has fuelled a passion for providing peer support for other women and girls who are autistic.
You can find out more about Jessie at her website The Lost Girl and her “Have a Cuppa with Me” peer support service.


Veterans’ mental health with RSL Victoria’s Adam “Buzz” Lawson and Dr Carolyn Deans

13 July 2021

I was intrigued to hear more about the topic of veterans’ mental health on the latest episode of our Get Real podcast.

For this episode we talk to two people with extensive military experience and insight into life for veterans – RSL Victoria’s Adam “Buzz” Lawson, Chief of Veterans Services and clinical psychologist Dr Carolyn Deans, who is the RSL Victoria’s mental health advisor.

The RSL is on the frontline of knowing some of the unique challenges that veterans and their families face when it comes to mental health and how to best support them.

Buzz and Carolyn tell us about veterans’ mental health and their take on what the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System mean for the people they support.

Veterans’ and defence force members’ mental health is also on the national radar with a Royal Commission currently underway to examine risk factors inside military life that contribute to the numbers of service men and women taking their own lives.

If you haven’t already, I recommend listening to the previous Get Real Episode with author Ruth Clare who talks about the impact that war had on her Vietnam veteran father and the devastating ripple effect on her family.

There is specific mental health and counselling support for veterans and their families from Open Arms on 1800 011 046.

The RSL Victorian Branch operates Veteran Central (1300 MIL VET) for Victorian veterans to interact with Ex-Service Organisations and get the wellbeing support they need.


Next to Normal: A bold musical exploring mental illness

17 June 2021

I get really inspired whenever I see a live performance whether it’s a play, concert or musical. I get moved, I get excited.

That’s why I was captivated by our most recent podcast for GET REAL: Talking Mental Health & Disability where host Robyn Haydon spoke to some artists who are 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”. 

You’ll enjoy hearing director Mark Taylor actress Queenie van de Zandt 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 and has been since staged around the world.

It’s fascinating to hear about a performer’s process when they prepare for a role – in this case Queenie explains how she’s inhabiting the lead role of Diana, a mother who is traumatised by loss and the unpredictable effects sparked by her bipolar diagnosis.

Mark and Queenie also speak candidly about the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the arts industry and their mental health.

At the time of the interview Melbourne was in a snap COVID lockdown that none of us expected to have – and just as Next to Normal was set to go into rehearsals.

Mark explains: “Everyone is uncertain at the moment and it’s so draining on our mental health…for us putting on a show, it’s terrifying… it’s been devastating to watch friends who are brilliant at what they do decide to give it up for something, even in the short term that is going to be more secure…that’s been awful…”

Let’s support our performers and artists where we can.

Next to Normal runs at Chapel Off Chapel Theatre in Melbourne from 15 July to 25 July 2021.

Content note: If you are affected by anything discussed in this podcast you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

ermha365 provides a range of mental health services designed to help people experiencing mental health challenges to thrive in the community.


Lived Experience (Part 8): Parenting my transgender child

7 June 2021

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.

ermha365 provides a range of mental health services designed to help people experiencing mental health challenges to thrive in the community.


Lived Experience (Part 7): Lauren McGovern – transgender & mental health

21 May 2021

It’s hard to put into words how powerful and important our latest episode of GET REAL: Talking Mental Health & Disability is – it’s essential, confronting listening for an insight into the experiences of being transgender in Australia.

We speak to the incredible Lauren McGovern, who speaks honestly and openly about her experiences of growing up trans in Tasmania in the 1980s and ‘90s. Although things have changed since then, Tasmania imposed the harshest penalties in the Western world for homosexual activity until 1997.

This conversation with Lauren is particularly poignant as last week (17 May) marked the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Interphobia & Transphobia (IDAHOBIT).

At age 45 Lauren came out as transgender and she tells us about the joy of this after decades of being someone other than who she really was inside.

She also shares her grief at the loss of previously close relationships with her four children – who have not found her transition easy – and Lauren shares a message directly to her kids about her love for them, and her hopes that they will reconnect with each other.

Lauren writes beautiful poetry I urge you to read. She shares it at her Facebook page Shortened by Anxiety.

LGBTIQA+ inclusion and recognition are so important. This is why we celebrate conversations with people like Lauren, who speak up and out to raise awareness for the work still needed to combat discrimination and promote more community understanding and solidarity with our LGBTIQA+ communities.


Reactions to the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System

5 May 2021

I’m positive I’m not alone in being hopeful about the findings of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System.

The findings will shape the future of mental health services, not just in Victoria, but potentially across Australia.

There are 65 recommendations including establishing between 50 to 60 new Adult and Older Adult Local Mental Health and Wellbeing Services that operate with extended hours and are delivered in a variety of settings.

Personally, what I’m most excited about is the idea of locally placed based services, right across the State – with a no wrong door approach!

In our latest podcast for GET REAL: Talking Mental Health & Disability, Robyn and I spoke to Gus Clelland, CEO Mental Health Victoria and VMIAC CEO Maggie Toko about what’s next now that the report is on the table and the real work of implementing the recommendations is about to start?

Both Gus and Maggie were clear that the Royal Commission’s recommendations to move the system from one that’s based on crisis to a more accessible one that meets demand, and is close to people’s homes, is crucial.

Many people suffer in silence until they are at a desperate point and turn up to their hospital emergency department, only to be turned away or go to their GP who may not be able to refer then to the support they need. As Maggie said: “There’s not many places to go if you are wobbling…” – and that needs to change.

The value of “lived experience” is another aspect that’s exciting about the recommendations for this system transformation. A system that can respond to individuals and families with a framework where lived experience is recognised and embedded will mean more and better supports and services for consumers and carers.

We know that 1 in 2 Australians will experience mental illness in their lifetimes so there’s a huge wealth of lived experience where consumers can truly be part of shaping this new mental health system.

There’s much more to talk about as the recommendations are implemented so stay tuned for more on this topic!

GET REAL: Podcast | ermha365


Creativity, disability and mental health: what’s the connection?

22 April 2021

In our latest episode of GET REAL, we take a creative detour off the beaten path and talk to Sue Roff, head of Arts Project Australia, about the connection between creativity, disability and mental health.

What stood out for me is the word “voice”, and how, through the creation of their work, the artists of Arts Project Australia are given a platform to be heard.

I especially loved the story about the artist who is non verbal, and how he used his art to protest his new location in the studio during COVID (you will need to listen to the episode to hear the full story).

ermha365 and Arts Project Australia share a lot in common. We, too, recognise the need to find your voice, and make choices, so you can thrive.

What I love about Arts Project Australia, and the stories Sue Roff shares, is how the first steps that were taken more than 40 years ago, continue to provide artists with intellectual disabilities with a studio space staffed by artists and a professionally curated and run art gallery to show their art, and a way to take their art to the main street – and mainstream community.

And it doesn’t stop there; the artists are represented in galleries overseas through Art.et.al, an art platform that commissions and presents collaborations between artists from supported studios, artist peers and arts professionals.

A study in 2018 showed that engaging in the visual arts for adults with mental health conditions can:

– reduce reported levels of depression and anxiety
– increase self-respect, self-worth and self-esteem
– encourage and stimulate re-engagement with the wider, everyday social world
– support in participants a potential re-negotiation of identity through practice-based forms of making or doing.

That’s why creative and art therapies are a central component of our psychosocial programs at ermha365.

I am inspired by Sue’s idea – is there a place in our society for a similar offering of professional spaces for arts and creative practice for people with mental health conditions?

I hope so; the world would be a little less if it wasn’t for the vibrant palette and dynamic brush strokes of people like Vincent van Gogh.

The arts help us to continue to redefine mental health and disability, and by doing so, to celebrate and show what’s possible – and the artistic gifts that already exist.


How do we heal from loss and trauma?

23 March 2021

At 15, Susan Berg was the sole survivor of a catastrophic boating accident that claimed the lives of her Mum, Dad and 16-year old brother, Bill.

Desperate to find help, she swam ahead, struggling through shark-infested, freezing water in the darkness, birds circling her every stroke on the long, terrifying swim, until she reached semi-deserted French Island to raise the alarm.

 Her family did not.

 At sunrise, the bodies of her mother, father and brother, Bill, were found floating in the bay.

Susan Berg recently joined us as our special guest for this year’s first episode of our popular Lived Experience series for GET REAL: Talking Mental Health and Disability.

 I first heard Susan speak at a Walk Against Family Violence a few years ago. Her story is both heart-breaking and inspiring. It has stayed with me.

After the accident, Susan blamed herself for years. Wracked by survivor’s guilt, she delved into a miserable life of self-loathing, anxiety and despair. Looking for solace in sex and drugs, she charged down a path of self-destruction.

In the years that followed, Susan faced a string of incredible challenges including sexual assault, death, cervical cancer, and domestic violence.

It was not until many years later, when Susan cheated death for a second time, that she learned the tools to heal her heart and find peace and happiness within herself.

In 2015 her 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. She is now an ultra-marathon swimmer training for a solo crossing of the English Channel!

In Episode 28 of our GET REAL podcast, Susan shares her story and her recovery and what she is looking forward to in the future, as well as her thoughts on the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System.

At ermha365, we share Susan’s passion for the inclusion of lived experience in all aspects of the mental health system, including the delivery of mental health services and responding to people in appropriate and effective ways.

 You can learn more about Susan by visiting www.susanberg.com.au/

To read Susan’s story for yourself, we have 4 signed copies of Susan’s autobiography The Girl Who Lived to give away. For a chance to win:
(1)  Follow ermha365 on Twitter – https://twitter.com/ermha365
(2)  And, tweet and share Susan’s episode of GET REAL by 31 March.


Things can only get better? What does 2021 look like for people with disabilities?

3 March 2021

2020 was a tough year all round. And for people with a disability, and those that support them, it was a year of constant stress and anxiety, scrambling to provide disability support safely, while PPE and specific guidance for the disability sector were often in short supply. The sector managed outbreaks, lockdowns, more lockdowns and a number of restrictions right across Australia.

Will 2021 be any better for people with a disability, and if so, how? Today, GET REAL listeners have the rare opportunity to be a fly on the wall of our ‘virtual boardroom’, as four CEOs of disability support and advocacy organisations come together to talk about the effects of repeated lockdowns, the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, and how last year’s challenges are accelerating new ways of delivering disability services.

I was lucky enough to moderate this CEO-to-CEO conversation with David Moody, CEO of National Disability Services (NDS), Australia’s peak body for non-government disability service organisations; Phil Hayes-Brown, CEO of Wallara; and Stephanie Gunn, CEO of Gateways Support Services.

These 3 amazing CEOs shared their thoughts, their insights and their hopes for a better 2021. I hope you enjoy the conversation.

Episode 27: The outlook for people with disability (buzzsprout.com)


Homelessness – where are we, and what’s ahead?

25 February 2021

It will come as no surprise to hear that people with mental illness are at greater risk of experiencing homelessness. In general, 47% of those experiencing homelessness have mental illnesses, and up to 75% of women.

Nor is it surprising that the stress of being homeless exacerbates poor mental health, and can trigger previous mental illness and with it anxiety, fear, depression, sleeplessness and substance use.

Until now, permanent solutions have seemed a long way away – but they are now closer than ever, thanks to the twin influences of the COVID-19 pandemic and the imminent arrival of major mental health reforms in Victoria.

At the start of the pandemic, the challenge of how to provide accommodation for people experiencing homelessness was one of the first that government chose to tackle. Back then, outreach workers combed the streets and parks of Melbourne and other capital cities looking for rough sleepers, offering them shelter in hotels and empty student accommodation. Eventually around 7,000 people were located and given accommodation nationally, to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

In July 2020, to the sector’s great relief, funding for this program was extended to April this year, when in Victoria it will be replaced with the From Homelessness to a Home program. This $150 million package covers hotel accommodation for around 2,000 homeless people until April, as well as the cost of leasing 1,100 properties on the private rental market. The Victorian government is backing this up with the Big Housing Build, which will ensure that 2,000 more Victorians living with mental illness will soon have a long-term home.

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 our latest podcast for GET REAL: Talking Mental Health & Disability, we speak to Tim and Rosie from our Community Connect program, who describe what it was like supporting people experiencing homelessness during COVID-19 lockdowns last year.

Tim, who works with rough sleepers and people experiencing homelessness every day, won ermha365’s Karslake Award for 2020 – basically our ‘best and fairest’ award, and the highest honour we give to any of our 500 staff. At the same time, Rosie was a finalist in our Individual Resilience award, and the Pathways team, part of the Community Connections program, won the Team Resilience award

They continue to do this important work under still-challenging conditions, making a real difference daily in the lives of our community’s most vulnerable people.

Episode 26: Homelessness – where we are, and what’s ahead (buzzsprout.com)


From illness, to wellness, to recovery – suicide prevention

23 December 2020

At the end of what has been an extraordinarily difficult, unprecedented year, and with the mad rush to Christmas, I am exhausted.  Aren’t you?  We’ve all been through the ringer this year. 

It has not been the best of times.  And yet, we are here.  I am here.  You are here, if you’re reading this.  We’ve made it through, and we will keep going.

Pain, suffering, grief and loss – these are some of the emotions that can arise at this time of the year, alongside love, and joy, and togetherness with family and friends.  If you have lost a loved one this year, or previously, that loss can feel doubly hard to bear at Christmas.

I lost two family members this year, and I will be grieving that loss this Christmas.  I have made a choice however to feel that pain, and let it sit, uncomfortably and awkwardly, alongside the joy and happiness that comes with Christmas.  I’ve made this choice, because if I try to suppress it, it will bottle up, and may come back as something worse.

Every year, across the globe, around 1 million people, take their own lives.  That is a terrible statistic – but one that is not talked about. Globally we have lost around 1.5m people (so far) to COVID.  We have certainly talked about COVID deaths  – and so we should.  But why aren’t we talking about that other million people?  Suicide and mental illness does not discriminate – it can and does happen to anyone. Why can’t we talk about mental illness, and thereby help to lower that awful statistic?

I felt a great sense of relief when I was talking with Ingrid Ozols on Get Real: Talking Mental Health and Disability about her experiences of suicide – in her own life and as a carer of others.  Ingrid talks about the need to talk about suicide; the need to talk openly about our mental health challenges.  As a carer of people with suicidal ideation, Ingrid speaks with first-hand experience of the lessons she’s learnt over the years, which she shares across the global in her speaking engagements. 

Ingrid takes the airline safety message seriously (remember flying?!) “Put your oxygen mask on first – then help others”.   She urges people caring for others with suicidal ideation to practice really good self-care, especially coming up to Christmas – a time that for many is overwhelming, or lonely, or triggering.  She urges us to all be aware of what’s going on with others around you, and be aware of your own vulnerabilities. To quote Ingrid “Strength comes from sharing your vulnerability, and caring for someone who is vulnerable grows your strength”.  

It really is OK to say I’m not OK – and when someone says that, lets be sure that we are listening. 

Lets give each other the gift of attention for Christmas.  We all need attention – so lets give it.  Authentically, generously.  Lets be compassionate and gentle, with ourselves and others.  Lets just sit with people, be with each other.  We don’t have to ‘fix’ anything – lets just be there for each other. 

At the end of this unbelievable year, on behalf of ermha365, its staff and Board, I wish you all a wonderful, loving and restful Christmas.

Click here if you would like to listen to Ingrid’s story: https://www.buzzsprout.com/922639/6974284-episode-20-from-illness-to-wellness-to-recovery-suicide-prevention

If you, or anyone you know, are experiencing emotional distress, you can access 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention services from Lifeline on 13 11 14 or connect to them here:  https://www.lifeline.org.au

I also encourage you to contact Suicide Prevention Australia – who are changing the narrative on suicide. https://www.suicidepreventionaust.org


There’s power in sharing your story – to help yourself and others to heal

01 December 2020

Discrimination in any form is not on. Belittling and humiliating others is not on.

Be it small micro-aggressions – like comments on peoples’ looks – or systemic discrimination at an institutional level, all of it is unacceptable in this day and age. Those people who indulge in this kind of behaviour, and the managers and organisations that indulge the perpetrators of this behaviour, are in the wrong.

Discrimination causes harm to those that are discriminated against – those who are made to feel like they don’t fit in the team. It’s important to acknowledge the hurt that this does to people. It can undermine their self-confidence, make them feel ostracised, unworthy, and different from the norm. The anger that arises from being ‘othered’ can lead to depression and even suicidal thoughts.

Calling out that behaviour takes courage. Our recent special guest on GET REAL: Talking Mental Health and Disability, Yvonne Sillett, is one of those people with courage – bucket loads of it!

Yvonne is not only courageous because of her distinguished career in the Australian Army, but because she had, and continues to have, the courage to call out the discrimination against her as a lesbian in the Army. Up until 1992, discrimination against gay and lesbian women in the Army was overt, systemic and intense. A lot has improved since 1992, but there’s still a long way to go. Recent research has shown that lesbian and bisexual women in the Army were targeted, even more so than gay or bisexual men – reflecting compounded discrimination – discrimination for being a woman, and for being gay.  

Of course discrimination against the LGBTIQ+ community is not limited to the Armed Forces – it happens across society as a whole, and has devastating impacts on people’s mental health. The Victorian Government is creating the state’s first whole of government strategy for LGBTIQ+ individuals and communities, expected to be finalised in late 2021. Its discussion paper noted that,

“while significant reforms, particularly in the past two decades, has been seen, 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. 

Discrimination, based on sexual orientation, or race, or gender, or disability, or ethnicity – does have, often enduring, impacts on a person life, particularly their mental health. The people that we support at ermha365 often have a number of characteristics, as well as the complexity of a dual mental health and disability diagnosis, that subjects them to discrimination. 

Discrimination against someone simply because they are different from you, reflects your weaknesses, not theirs.

You can hear Yvonne share her story here: www.ermha.org/get-real-podcast, and read more about her story here: www.mup.com.au/books/pride-in-defence-paperback-softback

If you, or anyone you know, are experiencing emotional distress, you can access 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention services from Lifeline on 13 11 14 or connect to them here: https://www.lifeline.org.au/


Never give up

04 November 2020

Mental health challenges can affect anyone, anywhere, anytime, under any circumstances. The circumstances that result in a mental illness may be entirely outside your control – it might be something that developed in the womb, at birth, or through childhood trauma. Or it could be as a result of decisions that you make as an adult. 

Regardless of how your mental illness came about you have the right to be treated with dignity and respect. And you have the right to the support you need to live a full and meaningful life.

At ermha365 we provide that support to anyone who seeks us out – without judgement. 

In our last episode of GET REAL: Talking Mental health and Disability, we interviewed Steve Cain as part of the lived experience series. Steve Cain had it hard from early childhood, but, after decades in and out of prison, turned his life around.

On the other side of the tracks was Graeme Alford. Graeme had the world at his feet. He went to private school, won a Commonwealth Scholarship, excelled at Melbourne University and breezed his way into a city law firm. But Graeme was a heavy punter and drinker, and it wasn’t long before he went from defending criminals – to being one. Jailed not once but three times, Graeme thought he’d game the prison psychological assessment to get a lighter sentence. Instead, he was shocked to discover he had acquired a significant cognitive impairment due to his excessive use of alcohol. So Graeme had a choice – give up or get up! He chose to get up, and got his life back on track.

Today Graeme is the Founder of 21Renew, a custom-designed wellness program for people with alcohol, drug or gambling issues, who are looking for an alternative to traditional rehabs. He researched rehabilitation programmes, and realised that the (then current) models suited some, but not all. This was particularly the case with people like him – people who seemed to be functioning well in society – holding down a job, relationships etc – but had serious addiction problems that were starting to impact of their lives. He realised that people needed customised programmes that addressed their specific life circumstances. 21Renew was born!

At ermha365 we share this fundamental philosophy – that one-size does not necessarily fit all. People with mental illness and disabilities have the right to choose and control what support they access, to suit their needs.  At ermha365 we work side by side with people on their journey to reach their full potential. This applies equally to the individuals we support, their families and wider support networks, and is based on a deep recognition of the whole person and their potential.

The people we support come from all backgrounds, with a diverse range of abilities, but they all present with complex behavioural needs that demand specialised support structures.

Although the individual needs of the client ultimately determine the specific support provided, our approach proceeds in three broad steps: supporting you to find your voice; supporting you to make informed choices; and supporting you to thrive.

You can check out our services here:  https://www.ermha.org

You can check out my interview with Graeme here – https://www.ermha.org/get-real-podcast

And learn more about 21Renew and Graeme here: https://www.21renew.com/ and http://www.graemealford.com/


Nothing is impossible – the power of a dollar to change a life

22 October 2020

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, metal 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, where we are speaking to some remarkable men and women who have overcome incredible adversity, and are giving back to others in need of support.

It was a real privilege to speak to Steve, who by his own admission 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.

Personally, I have always admired Steve’s determination and commitment to not only change his own circumstances, but to help others do the same.

Now based in Adelaide, Steve is always thinking of new ways to help even more people – even now during border closures and COVID restrictions. His story is really worth a listen.

You can check out my interview with Steve Cain here –https://www.buzzsprout.com/922639/5883559-episode-15-lived-experience-series-part-2-steve-cain-nothing-is-impossible


Even tough guys need a cuddle – breaking down stereotypes of what it means to be a man in today’s society

8 October 2020

Everyone needs a cuddle sometimes – even tough guys.  That ‘cuddle’ can be an empathetic ear from someone who has been down a similar road, an escape into the wild with the guys for a few days, an open space to vent, feel validated and heard, or a wake-up call from someone that’s been there.

For years I’ve been following the story of James Harding, the founder of Hard Cuddles, and his fascinating take on the issue of mental health when it comes to men.

Hard Cuddles provides peer support, meaning that men who have come through challenging times themselves then mentor other men through the emotional challenges they’re facing.  James had been struggling himself, and he craved a relationship with someone he could relate to.  There wasn’t anything out there, so Hard Cuddles was born.

Peer support from people with similar lived experience is increasingly valued as an important contribution to the suite of supports available to people with mental health issues, disability, addictions and other challenges.  The empathy that comes from people with lived experience, coupled with psychosocial support from trained service providers, and clinical support can provide people in need and their carers, with a ‘community’ of supporters.

As James says “When you go through the big things in life – addiction, prison etc – you do the hard stuff alone.   People make really bad decisions when they’re alone – its great just to be connected when you’re going through hard times.  Hard Cuddles is there to support you.”

Steven Kline is a Hard Cuddles mentor who now works with James, but was homeless when he found Hard Cuddles.  “I was freezing! I was thinking through all the people I had hurt.  I was doing everything in my power to get better – seeing psychologists and psychiatrists but nothing was working.  Multiple times during that descent I felt ready but it wasn’t working.  I was stuck with old concepts of what a man is/ should be.   I struggled with emotional regulation.  I didn’t understand that by feeling it, I could help myself.”

With mental health and disability, there are entrenched challenges. Hard Cuddles use a hybrid of mentoring, counselling, and lived experience to gain trust.  “At Hard Cuddles we don’t use buzz words –  we use language that people can relate to,” James explains.  “It’s not clinical  – it’s authentic – and it comes from our lived experience”. 

I am delighted that ermha365 has partnered with Hard Cuddles to bring a range of expertise – lived experience coupled with evidenced based psychosocial support – offering relevant, high quality services to people with complex mental health needs.

You can hear directly from James and Steven on Episode 14 of our GET REAL:  Talking Mental health and Disability podcast on the ermha365 website https://www.ermha.org/get-real-podcast.

If you need support you can connect with us here www.ermha.org  or with Hard Cuddles  www.hardcuddles.com


Finding safe, secure and suitable housing for people with high & complex needs matters

9 September 2020

Most of us would agree that having a roof over your head is pretty fundamental so you can function, and meet your basic needs in life. All of us need, and deserve, a stable, long term home – not just a house, or a roof, but a real home – so we can thrive, and be the best that we can be. 

At ermha365, we constantly see the myriad ways in which 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.

That’s why we are tackling this big, gnarly problem head-on.

This month, I am delighted to announce our partnership with Better Life Housing in a unique development in Melbourne’s inner South for NDIS participants seeking robust accommodation and support.

This three-town house development in Parkdale, available for occupancy in December 2020, has been co-designed with stakeholders to provide a high-quality option for people with high and complex needs associated with mental ill-health and cognitive disability. We have worked collaboratively to incorporate elements that provide best practice support for sensory requirements, high levels of safety and durability and will enable a full and comprehensive approach to tailored staff support.

The units will be fully supported 24/7 by ermha365 as the Supported Independent Living Provider (SIL), giving residents flexible models of support from our specialist trained staff. The thoughtful layout considers the ability of staff to walk alongside people’s journey to independence in the community, and utilises the best of therapeutic built design.

We are currently seeking expressions of interest for this development from NDIS participants who have complex mental health and/or cognitive disability needs, Supported Independent Living support requirements, and who have existing approval for a robust build (contact intake@ermha.org).

Last week, our podcast GET REAL also invited a panel of experts to share their thoughts about the big, gnarly problem of housing for people with high and complex needs.

This fascinating conversation includes Joseph Connellan, one of Australia’s most respected strategic housing consultants; Charles Northcote, CEO of BlueCHP, currently the largest developer of specialist disability housing in Australia; and Frances Sanders, Senior Manager of NDIS services at ermha365, who has been instrumental in bringing our Parkdale development to life.

We are excited to be part of shaping real housing solutions for people in our community who need it most.


Celebrating PARCs

18 August 2020

At ermha365, we are very proud of the wonderful synergy and partnerships that are created between clinical mental health, ermha365 staff and mental health consumers at ermha365 PARCs.

PARCs is short for “Prevention And Recovery Care” services; which are short-term, residential mental health treatment services located in the community.

ermha365 has been managing PARCs for almost 15 years. As a psychosocial support services provider, we work hand-in-hand with our clinical mental health partners to make sure our PARCS address local needs and challenges. We set up the first women-only PARC in Victoria, and provide over 18,000 hours of programmed PARC activities each year, along with specific, targeted one-on-one mental health recovery support.

We reckon PARCs are pretty special places, and wanted to highlight the amazing role they play in the mental health recovery journey for so many people.

So, this month, our GET REAL podcast team invited some very special guests to join us in a two-part special Celebrating PARCs.

Guests include Karen Dixon, Lecturer and Fieldwork coordinator in the School of Primary and Allied Health Care at Monash University, who helped set up Springvale PARC as the first women-only PARC in Victoria; Sean Kearns, Day Program Co-ordinator at Barwon Health Mental Health, who has been working at Barwon PARC for 17 years; Sharon and Kez, who have experienced stays at our PARCs; and many of the fabulous ermha365 staff who make PARCs happen.

This series gives a fascinating insight into the workings of a Prevention and Recovery Care service. In Part 1, we look at the development of Victoria’s first women-only PARC, and in Part 2, we take a deep-dive into the experiences of the people who work and stay at PARCs.

While listening to this series, I was humbled to hear Sharon, one of our PARCs consumers, express her gratitude for the support she received at PARCs.

“It was the worst time of my life,” said Sharon, “but everyone was helping me to head in the direction I wanted to go.”

Sharon noted the dedication of each and every staff member at PARC, in giving one hundred percent to every single person they support

“If I had gold medals to give, I’d give them to the ermha staff,” said Sharon. “They are a fantastic team. Looking back I was privileged to come to PARC and get the help I needed.”

Today I’d like to join Sharon in giving a shout-out and acknowledgement to the fabulous ermha365 PARCs staff in Victoria, who have worked tirelessly during the pandemic to support people in their mental health recovery journey. We are very proud of you and your fabulous work.

For more information about ermha365 PARCs, check out https://www.ermha.org/residential-support-3/


An update about our supports for people with complex mental health and disabilities during COVID.

14 July 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future, and the team at ermha365 continues to work tirelessly to adapt our services to support the most vulnerable people in our community. These are challenging and unprecedented times. Here in Australia and around the world. At ermha365 our top priority is to support our amazing people so we can keep delivering high quality services for those most vulnerable in the community.

 It’s timely to update our stakeholders on what we are doing, and continue to do, to get through this together.

Yes we are open. ermha365 continues to support our participants during the COVID-19 pandemic and at the same time we are able to accept new referrals to our services in The NT and in Victoria.

As an organisation delivering essential services for people with complex mental health and disabilities, we are committed to continuing to support people through this very difficult time. This is to advise all of our stakeholders of the strategies we are putting in place, the safety measures we are employing and what we have starting doing with our current participants. Our commitment to remain open and to keep delivering essential services for people with complex mental health and disabilities remains unchanged.

Mental health and community services

All funded mental health services are considered essential services and at this time, now even more than ever, the provision of mental health treatment and care to consumers and families/carers is imperative. In line with this, all workforce roles currently employed within services our mental health services are considered essential valued roles.

We are still delivering support in the community for those who need it.

For people with the most complex functional support needs, the ermha365 team will continue to provide face to face support.

  • Our residential PARC services in Melbourne and Barwon remain open
  • Our staff are also providing home based support for people who are considered to be high need and who need to see workers face to face.
  • A safety questionnaire is completed prior to all direct support work to ascertain risk, before we “in reach” into a person’s home
  • In order to ensure our staff and the people we support are safe, the ermha365 team are all using PPE.
  • In the hotspot areas in Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire, as well as good hand hygiene and infection control our staff are also wearing single use, surgical face masks.
  • We can also provide masks to our clients for all of our home based visits.
We are also providing telehealth services for those who prefer to be supported that way.

With the full support of the Victorian State Government, we have moved some of our community based Mental Health Services to a telehealth model of care where people are willing to receive support from us in this way.

  • We are providing individual direct support through telephone and video.
  • We are offering a range of virtual support groups for people with mental illness to participate in. These include mindfulness, art therapy and social groups.
  • Our support includes helping people understand COVID-19, what to do and how we can help them, as well as strategies to maintain good mental health in this time of crisis and uncertainty.
  • In addition our staff can support vulnerable people who are self-isolating to access home deliveries for food and emergency relief, including basic food and sanitary items for participants that are struggling.
NDIS services for clients with complex care needs

ermha365 considers our NDIS services supporting people with complex mental health and disabilities to be an essential service at this time. Now even more than ever, the provision of care to consumers and families/carers is imperative.

The ermha365 team continues to provide Supported Independent Living (SIL), Medium term accomodationShort term accomodationBehaviour Support and non-residential community based Supports.

We are working around the clock to ensure some of the most vulnerable people with disabilities are supported during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have developed individualised plans that are focused on what participants might require to keep them well though this health crisis, and we have prepared detailed work instructions for times when people in our care may become unwell.

Our Direct Support services are still fully operational and we are open for referrals
  • Direct support will continue for ermha365 clients in the NDIS, including face to face support in their homes and in our 24/7 SIL programs
  • In order to ensure our staff and the people we support are safe, the ermha365 team are all using PPE.
  • In the hotspot areas in Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire, as well as good hand hygiene and infection control our staff are also wearing single use, surgical face masks.
  • We can also provide masks to our clients for all of our home based visits and activities in the community.
  • We will ensure that we have capacity for all participant needs, and we are remaining open for new referrals in Darwin and surrounds and across Victoria
An option for non-residential NDIS clients to choose Telehealth Support
  • New telephone / tele health support can be offered to our NDIS clients who would prefer to receive support in this way, or through a mix of face to face and telephone supports
  • Normal support hours can be rapidly made available by phone or online as required by our participants
  • We are willing and able to adjust supports rapidly at the request of our participants
Coordination of Support

Coordination of Support will continue. Our Coordination of Support service is still open for new referrals.

Visitors to our services

It is noted that many health services have begun to limit or cease leave for consumers in bed-based services to limit the risks of COVID-19 infection. We also note that special rules now apply to restrict entry into hospitals to limit the spread of COVID-19.

ermha365 has strict visitor rules in place for all of our residential services. These are stricter in hot spot areas in Melbourne. We ask all visitors to contact us before coming to any ermha365 residential service in the first instance.

 To make any enquiries please call the ermha365 team on 1300 376 421

Too many people with complex Mental Health and or Disabilities end up in the Criminal Justice system.

We could, and should do better.

24 June 2020

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.

At ermha365, we support people with complex needs – who have physical, sensory or cognitive disabilities, as well as mental health challenges. These complex needs, coupled with age, gender, indigeneity, ethnicity and even location can create barriers for people’s access to justice. Our work helps remove people from the criminal justice system, reduces their recidivism, and helps address the underlying causes of their challenging behaviours, resulting in sustainable long-term absence from conflict with the law.

Too many people with complex mental health needs and or disabilities end up in prison – most often because there are few other alternatives to place them. Too many people with mental health needs and or disabilities are poorly served by the criminal justice system – because the system is designed for the majority, not for those with special needs. Too much time, money and effort within the criminal justice system is spent on people that could be better supported through community-based mental health service providers. 

ermha365 proposed a six-point plan to address to address these issues.

  1. Provide suitable and safe housing to cease the inappropriate warehousing of people with disabilities in Australia’s jails
  2. Enable diversion as soon as possible, and at all levels of the criminal justice system
  3. Resolve ineffective linkages between disability supports and justice agencies
  4. Provide system-wide training for emergency services and criminal justice agency staff, and deliver ‘through-care’ for people with complex needs
  5. Develop awareness among people with disabilities, and cognitive and mental health conditions of their legal and human rights
  6. Increase specialist support, without additional cost, through adjustment of the NDIS pricing schedules.

This week marks the seventh episode of our GET REAL podcast, where I teamed up with Isabel Calvert – our Social Justice, Policy and Advocacy Advisory – to talk about these issues, and our six-point plan, in more depth and detail.

If you know someone with a disability or mental health issue that needs support – then the team at ermha365 can help. We provide disability and NDIS support, mental health services and community outreach programs. Reach out to us and we will reach back.


Championing the Human Rights of People with Disability

10 June 2020

In April this year, Professor Ruth Vine, formerly the Chief Psychiatrist of Victoria, was appointed as Australia’s first deputy chief ­medical officer for mental health. 

Around the same time, and partly as a response to strong sector advocacy on disability, mental health and the COVID19 response, an advisory group was established to develop a disability response plan for the specific health needs of people with disability during the pandemic. As a result, the comprehensive Management and Operational Plan for COVID-19 for People with Disability was released on 18 April.  

Alongside these developments, the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability has published a suite of Issues Papers, seeking public response on these issues – particularly the lived experience of disabilities. And the Royal Commission on the Mental Health System in Victoria is consolidating its findings.

Together, this suite of initiatives strengthens the regulatory framework in Australia securing the rights of people with disabilities. Those rights were first articulated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, which came into force in Australia in 2008, and have transformed the way we think about, engage with and support people with disabilities.

Fundamental principles in that Convention include the full and equal participation of people with disabilities – in all matters that affect them. This principle is now embedded in the NDIS’ values of ‘choice and control’ of the services people with disabilities use. 

At ermha365, our work follows these principles of participation and inclusion, choice and control. 

We support people with complex needs – who have physical, sensory or cognitive disabilities, as well as mental health challenges. These complex needs, coupled with age, gender, indigeneity, ethnicity and even location can create barriers for people. 

Our work helps people make choices about what they need and helps remove the barriers that prevent them from achieving their goals. 

This week on GET REAL, in our Human Rights and Disability podcast, we talked to Leah van Popple, CEO of Women with Disabilities Victoria about the additional challenges women with disabilities face; and with Isabel Calvert, ermha365’s Social Policy, Justice and Advocacy Adviser, who worked in the United Nations Disability Program, about the Convention and how it’s relevant today.

If you know someone with a disability or mental health issue that needs support – then ermha365 can help. We provide disability and NDIS support, mental health services and community outreach programs. Reach out to us and we will reach back.


Getting help for your mental health during COVID-19

27 May 2020

In mid-May, the Prime Minister announced that the government has appointed the country’s first deputy chief medical officer for mental health, Associate Professor Dr Ruth Vine, formerly the Chief Psychiatrist of Victoria.

Elevating mental health to a ‘tier one issue’ within government is the clearest acknowledgement we’ve had so far that there is widespread concern that the mental health effects of the pandemic may be even deeper, last longer and be more challenging to manage than the physical health effects.

At ermha365, we have a long history of helping people who experience episodic and long-term mental health issues.

This is complex and challenging work, and there isn’t a one-size solution for everyone.

For example, we know that for some people, events like COVID-19 can result in them withdrawing from their regular mental health supports even though they may need them more than ever. These people need assertive outreach to help them stay engaged.

In contrast, others may actually find it easier to engage with support through Telehealth (telephone or video appointments, email, or text) because they reduce practical barriers to participation, such as the need for transportation, as well as some psychological barriers, such as the need to invite a support worker into their home or to meet new people in a group setting.

If you know someone who needs support for their mental health – particularly if it is something they have struggled with even before COVID-19, or they have an underlying mental health condition, or the advice that’s widely available just doesn’t seem to make a difference for them – then ermha365 can help.

We are open for new referrals into our mental health programs, including our Psychosocial Support Services (PSS) program, which offers short-term mental health support to build peoples’ capacity and connectedness at times when it is most needed.

This week on our GET REAL podcast, Getting Help For Your Mental Health During COVID-19, I talked to Shandya and Shyleen, a consumer and PSS support worker, about how getting support through PSS has helped Shandya to manage depression, set new goals for her life, and realise that she is much stronger and more resourceful than she believed she was. Shandya admits that she put off seeking support for a long time, because she was ashamed to ask for help – but it was the best thing she ever did.

The PSS program provides mental health support across a wide catchment area in South Eastern Melbourne that stretches from St Kilda to Sorrento to Bunyip, including the major population hubs of Clayton, Dandenong, Moorabbin, Caulfield, Cranbourne, Frankston and Pakenham. To access the PSS program, contact SEMPHN Access & Referral on 1800 862 363 (8.30am-4.30pm weekdays) or visit the SEMPHN website and download the referral form – https://www.semphn.org.au/resources/access.html#referralpss


Telehealth: delivering mental health support in a time of social distancing

13 May 2020

Now, more than ever, people need support with their mental health, and services like ermha365 have needed to find new and innovative ways to continue to provide mental health support while maintaining social distancing.

We have now moved most of our mental health services to telehealth, providing support through scheduled telephone or video appointments, by email, or through unscheduled welfare checks by phone or text.

This means that everything our mental health support workers and peer workers were doing face-to-face, or in-person, before COVID-19, they are now doing via telehealth – bringing some welcome, and sometimes unexpected, benefits.

For example, our Psychosocial Support Services (PSS) team offers short-term mental health support to build peoples’ capacity and connectedness at times when it is most needed.

The PSS team reports that some people with mental health issues are actually feeling more comfortable to connect to group or 1-1 supports by phone, Zoom or email, than to access them in person. For some people, traditional groups can bring up feelings of anxiety about meeting new people, needing to be social, or being in an unfamiliar physical space. Now, we are receiving feedback from consumers who find Zoom groups a ‘gentler’ way to engage in group support, because they are able to turn off their camera and microphone and get a feel for the group first, something they haven’t been able to do before.

Jess, a support worker in our PSS program, tells me that COVID-19 has also helped to break down barriers between the people we support and the workers who are providing that support. Because we are all in this together, many of the people we support are actually feeling less isolated than they did before we were all isolated – which is very welcome news.

Telehealth offers new and exciting opportunities to help even more people with their mental health than ever before.

The technologies for telehealth have existed for some time, but with limited uptake before COVID-19. In the United States for example, until recently, only 1 in 150 doctor visits and only one in every 5,000-10,000 specialist visits were conducted via telehealth.  It’s likely that COVID-19 will permanently change these numbers – for the better.

As our experience has shown, telehealth isn’t just a clinical model for health support. It can also be a community model, enabling consumers to access personalised mental health support and welfare checks to make sure they are travelling okay through the pandemic, and beyond.

You can hear Jess and other members of our team talk about telehealth in the Episode 4 of our podcast, GET REAL: Talking Mental Health and Disability.

For support with your mental health:

In Geelong/Barwon, contact the Access Team at Barwon Health Mental Health Drug and Alcohol Services (MHDAS) on 03 4215 0000 for an assessment. A Mental Health Community Clinician (case manager) then makes the referral to ermha365.


How Virtual Reality is helping the actual reality of training workers to provide psychosocial disability support

29 April 2020

Long before COVID-19 brought an overlay of social distancing and a hyper-focus on hygiene into our daily lives, the ermha365 workforce was dealing with other fundamental, daily challenges.

What’s the best way to support people with a significant mental disorder and complex needs? How do you react when someone you’re working with shows challenging behaviours, like self-harm and violence? What is the best way to help someone with a psychosocial disability to find their voice, make their choices, and thrive?

While the NDIS has brought many exciting opportunities to people with disabilities, it has also presented a few challenges to our workforce.

One challenge is that the transition of psychosocial disability support to the NDIS unfortunately brought with it a loss of skilled and experienced support workers in the sector. At the same time that the NDIS was changing the nature and context of this work, new workers entering the sector were finding themselves with limited opportunities to learn from more experienced practitioners.

ermha365 recognised these challenges early, and last year the ermha365 Academy was delighted to be awarded a Victorian government grant to deliver an innovative training project that we believe will change the face of psychosocial disability education.

In partnership with Wodonga TAFE and Mental Health Victoria, our team is working on a range of training resources, including a suite of Videos, Podcasts and Virtual Reality (VR) Simulations, that are integrated into National Competencies for vocational education.  By using these resources and creating immersive VR experiences to stimulate emotional and experiential learning, new workers will be better equipped to handle the challenges of psychosocial disability support in the NDIS environment.

In the current episode of GET REAL, ermha365’s podcast, we talk to Ellen Maple from ermha365 and Thomas MacNamara from Lightweave about why virtual reality is shaping up to be a game changer, helping trainees to practice and integrate new skills in a safe environment – and much more quickly than other training methods.

We are looking for people who want to get involved with this project, whether that’s by sharing your stories of providing effective support, being part of our virtual reality user trials program, or having your workforce trained at low-cost during our formal evaluation with Monash University. For more information, contact the ermha365 Academy team on 1300 376 421 or email training@ermha.org


ermha365’s response to COVID-19

15 April 2020

As an organisation delivering essential services for people with complex mental health conditions and disabilities, ermha365 is committed to continuing to support our participants and stakeholders through this very difficult and unprecedented time.

Our services remain open and fully operational, and we are open for referrals for NDIS Direct Support services and Coordination of Support services. Regular updates to our support strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic can be found here.

Mental Health and community services

All clinical and NGO state funded mental health services are considered essential services and at this time, even more than ever, the provision of mental health treatment and care to consumers and families/carers is imperative.

With the full support of the State Government, we have moved a number of our community based Mental Health Services to a telehealth model of care. We are now providing direct support through telephone, video and virtual support groups for people with mental illness in the community.

Our support includes helping people understand COVID-19, what to do and how we can help them, as well as strategies to maintain good mental health in this time of crisis and uncertainty. In addition, our staff are supporting vulnerable people who are self-isolating to access home deliveries for food and emergency relief, including basic food and sanitary items for participants that are struggling. For people with the most complex functional support needs, the ermha365 team will continue to provide face to face support.

Support being delivered by telehealth include:

  • Mental health support and referral services
  • Mental health brief interventions, online groups and individual supports
  • Support for carers
  • Support for people living in SRS accommodation
  • Support for rough sleepers and people at risk of homelessness
NDIS Services

ermha365 considers our NDIS services supporting people with complex mental health and disabilities to be an essential service at this time.

The ermha365 team continues to provide Supported Independent Living (SIL), Community services, Behaviour Support and Coordination of Support.

We are working around the clock to ensure some of the most vulnerable people with disabilities are supported during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have developed individualised plans that are focused on what participants might require to keep them well though this health crisis, and we have prepared detailed work instructions for times when people in our care may become unwell.

  • Direct support will continue for ermha365 clients in the NDIS, including face to face support in their homes and in our 24/7 SIL programs
  • A safety questionnaire will be completed prior to all direct support work to ascertain risk, before we “in reach” into a person’s home
  • If our support workers become unwell or need to isolate, we will provide direct support by substituting an alternative worker
  • Personal Protective equipment will be issued to our staff in all suspected and confirmed cases of COVID-19 where the person has been identified by medical practitioner and health services staff to be well enough to be cared for in their home.
  • We will have capacity for all participant needs, and we are remaining open for new referrals.
An option for NDIS clients to choose Telehealth Support
  • New telephone / tele health support can be offered to our NDIS clients who would prefer to receive support in this way, or through a mix of face to face and telephone supports
  • Normal support hours can be rapidly made available by phone or online as required by our participants
  • We are willing and able to adjust supports rapidly at the request of our participants

For more information on ermha365’s NDIS services, or to make a referral, contact our Intake team on 1300 376 421.


Looking after yourselves and each other right now is so important.

These are challenging times. It’s very natural for people to be feeling concerned and worried. I really can’t remember a time in my life when I have felt so uncertain. But what I am certain about is right now, more than ever before, is that now is the time we must reach out and support each other.

Some people will be worrying about family members who may be in higher risk groups, their children and themselves. Others may be worrying about things like sick leave, food shortages, no toilet rolls, and lock downs like we see on the news in other countries. These are unprecedented times for all of us.

At the same time, so many of the face-to-face interactions that give shape to our everyday lives are being put on hold, or shut down. Many Australians are now working from home.  Public events have been cancelled.  Some schools have closed, and more will follow.  Aged care homes – where many of us have aged parents or grandparents – are moving to lockdown.  We’re probably more likely to be spending our day engaging with social media and the news about the impact and disruption of COVID-19. 

Social distancing, for many, is hard. It’s lonely and it’s scary. Many of the people we work with at ermha who have mental health issues and disabilities will be feeling this.  Its likely that our families, friends, children and neighbours will be feeling this too.

What we CAN do, and what we DO have control over is how we treat and look out for each other. Now is the time for us all to come together, and to look out for and support each other. Reaching out to your support networks, our neighbours, friends and family.

It’s important to ask, Are you OK? – now more than ever.

Pick up the phone and call someone, make a time to chat with each other. Use social media to connect. Find new ways to stay connected.

Things you can do to support yourself and the people we work with, as well as your own network of family and friends:

  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
  • Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs.
  • Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
  • Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling. You don’t have to do this face to face, use the phone, video calls, what’s app, messenger etc…
  • Ask for help if you feel overwhelmed, or concerned that COVID-19 is affecting your ability to care for your family and clients as you did before the outbreak.

At ermha365, we are working very hard to keep our staff safe and healthy so that we can continue to operate our essential Disability and Mental Health community and residential services.  At the same time, we’re grappling with the challenges providing 24/7 services, having to move some of our community mental health services to a tele health model of support, and more people working from home and what that means.

Finally, I want to say I’m so impressed and inspired by the commitment of our workers and the flexibility across the entire ermha365 team as we work to ensure our services are maintained. Thank-you everyone. We will get through this…. together.


Social justice – why we should act every day, not just today! (February 2020)

Today is the world day of social justice 2020 where people all over the globe will be shining a spotlight on closing the Inequalities Gap to Achieve Social Justice.

The United Nations World Day of Social Justice is held every year on February 20 and encourages people to look at how social justice can help change the world, and the lives of people, for the better. The focus is on improving living standards while at the same time addressing serious challenges like financial crises, insecurity, poverty, exclusion and inequality.

So why does it matter?

When it comes to what is fair, everyone should be able to access the basic things they need to live a good life. Things like access to food, shelter, and clean water. Friends, family and people who love and care for you. Education, a job, an income. The opportunity to participate, to be included. Here in Australia, these things are often taken for granted by many of us, but for some people, there are gaps.

At ermha365 we know from experience that too often in Australia people experiencing mental illness and people with a disability face stigma, discrimination and barriers that restrict them from participating in society on an equal basis with others.

 When ‘Emma’ (not her real name) was diagnosed with schizophrenia a doctor told her she would be “better off with cancer because it was easier to cure”. People wouldn’t employ her because “she didn’t meet what they were looking for” or she was considers to be “too difficult” in the workplace. 

And Emma is not alone.

‘Mark’, who was born with an intellectual disability, experienced inappropriate jokes, insults and name-calling when he went to school. Hoping this would change when Mark was shocked to find it still existed widely in the local community where he lived.

Worse still, is the over-representation of people with mental illness and disability in the justice system. The 2012 Legal Australia-Wide survey found that people with a mental illness or disability were more than twice as likely to experience legal problems. They are also more likely to experience multiple legal problems and have difficulty resolving them. Is this right? Is this fair? At ermha365 we see to many people with a Mental Illness or Disability who have found themselves ‘warehoused’ in Jail…. too often because there is no where else for them to go.

At ermha365 we have a vision that things can and will be different. It’s clear that as a society we need to find a better way of thinking about mental health and disability. We believe that it starts with a focus on the whole person.

We need to continue to co design and develop appropriate community-based care and holistic solutions that take social, economic, and cultural factors into account and ensure that everyone has equitable access to services they need, when they need it.

 That way we can achieve real social justice including:

  • Community belonging and participation; and the opportunity to thrive and become part of a community of choice with friends, meaningful activities and a real sense of belonging.
  • Health, wellbeing and recovery; with a focus on improving social and emotional wellbeing, developing ongoing support networks, feeling positive about self and what can be achieved in the community.
  • Rights, respect, choice and control; supporting people to find and raise their voices and take ownership of their lives, treatment and support.
  • A safe and stable home life: having a place to feel safe, stable and secure in the community.

At ermha365 we are making a difference! You can too!


Whatever happened to our asylums?

So, the word asylum conjures up many images, right? Most of them negative. You think refugees or the homes we used to place the mentally ill into, you know, the ones we (rightly) closed.

Yet when we look at the word today, and what it means… shelter or protection from danger… Why have we shifted away from creating safe places in the community for some of our most vulnerable people to live and to thrive? We closed the asylums, but did we have a vision with what we could or should replace them with?

The Victorian Ombudsman has just recently spoken about the jailing of a woman diagnosed with autism spectrum and pervasive developmental disorders for 18 months ” because there was nowhere for her to go” as ” the saddest case I have investigated in my time as Ombudsman“.

The woman in question was arrested in 2016 at her parents’ home and charged with breaching an intervention order and resisting police. Without suitable or appropriate accommodation and given her risk of reoffending, she was remanded in custody. She was subsequently found unfit to stand trial and not guilty because of her mental impairment. The ombudsman noted that she spent up to 23 hours a day in solitary confinement, would scream with distress and lost almost half her body weight while jailed for 16 months.

In her findings, Ombudsman Ms Glass recommends the winner of November’s state election invest in secure treatment facilities other than prison for people found unfit to stand trial or not guilty by way of mental impairment.

I couldn’t agree more.

At ermha365 we are passionate about working with people with mental disorders who should be living in the community. Vulnerable people who need to have shelter or protection from danger. Yet time and time again we find there is nowhere safe, or suitable to house them. The modern day alternatives, jails and locked wards are not the right option, yet we don’t have the right options in the community for some of the most vulnerable citizens in our communities. Its time for all of us to solve this problem.

Today Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced a re-elected Labor Government will establish a Royal Commission into Mental Health, noting it will be the first of its kind in Australia, and work will begin within the first 100 days, including the appointment of Commissioners and the announcement of the Terms of Reference.

This excites me, because of the opportunities it brings to transform the way in which we approach the treatment and care of people living with mental disorders.

  • Its time for us as a society and as a community of professionals to be visionary.
  • Its time for us to be bold.

I believe we need to design a new modern concept of “asylum” for people with mental disorders. A new safe place, where human rights are at the forefront of design so that vulnerable Victorians have somewhere to live in the community where they can really thrive.


Jobs really do changes lives

Its November 1st today, and I can’t believe it but I have been the ermha365 CEO for 1 year today! I remember my first day coming in and meeting all of the team and in my first few weeks being so impressed by the passion that I saw in the people I met about the work ermha365 does. 

A year later, I still see, hear and feel that passion and commitment from everyone in the ermha team and I see it in our work. I believe that ermha365 is a really great place to work, to learn, to develop, to grow.  It’s also a great place to be at where you can make a difference in the lives of people who need our care and who need our support.

I think today about the consumers I have met, their stories, and how they are making changes. Changes with ermha365 people at their side. Assisting, supporting, believing in them. Wow.

The simple message I want to share today is the fact that the people at ermha change lives, they save lives, they help make lives better. They do this every day!  Its not just the front line staff at ermha either. It is the teams that support our people, who pay the bills, who keep the lights on, who maintain the cars, who recruit, train and support our teams on the ground. They absolutely are part of making a difference, and changing the world. 

Last month Deborah Glass in her role of the Victorian ombudsman published her findings into the incarceration of people with mental disorders and disabilities. Featured in all the media was the story of a 39 year old woman jailed for 16 months because “there was nowhere else for her to go”. Debra described her ordeal as the “saddest case I have seen in my time as ombudsman” describing how the woman lost half her body weight during her incarceration, and how a custodial setting breached her human rights.

Guess what. For exactly a year this woman has been an ermha365 client. She has been supported by a passionate team of ermha365 staff. She has lived independently in the community as opposed to being locked in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day. Yes, its not been easy for her care team. There have been challenges, issues and more challenges. But she has freedom. She has a better quality of life that she did in custody.

How many other stories do we have like this? People whose lives ermha365 has touched, help change in such a profound way? Hundreds and hundreds…

 Last year alone:

  • We supported more than 1,000 people living with mental illnesses across our programs to build a better quality of life
  • We provided more than 303 hours of support for carers in the community
  • 30 volunteers helped to support ermha365’s work
  • 27 students from Monash and Deakin did their placements here to learn and build their skills
  • Our client satisfaction with our support was 95%

Its amazing to be part of an organisation where together we are making a difference. Together, each day we help change the world in small ways, and in big ways for the people whose lives ermha365 touches.


Mental illness, homelessness…. and murder!

A lot has been written this week about the tragic and terrible murder of a young woman in a Melbourne park in both print and in social media.

A terrible, senseless death of a young woman, who should be able to be safe at night, in her home town. Out with friends.

I expected the commentary to be about finding out what had happened and working to prevent it happening again.

Instead most of the commentary has been around the individual circumstances of both people. Their homelessness, histories of mental illness, drug use and disabilities.  It seems the rhetoric has been to de-humanise the people involved. Find a way to say its OK, to accept it, to put it down to “issues”.

I have found it hard to find any description of either person that doesn’t draw upon the circumstances they found themselves in. The human story.

Instead we seem to be faced with a sea of “Nothing to see here!”

“We are not in the grip of a violence crisis in Australia”

“It’s the homelessness, mental health and drug use that’s the issue here”

“Not all men commit violence. We know violence against women is a problem. I don’t see how me reflecting on myself is going to stop women being bashed or murdered.”

The truth is there are different issues at play here. Do we have a housing crisis? Yes absolutely. Is our mental health system under unprecedented stress? Yes, and yes again. Is the rise of ICE a huge problem in our towns and cities? Undoubtedly. Should we be addressing and tackling these issues as a community? Without doubt.

Are they reason that justify a murder of a young woman? Do they excuse this man’s behaviours? Some how make them OK? Does this mean we just go on with our lives and not worry? Absolutely not.

The truth is:

  • On average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner.
  • 1 in 4 women have experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner since the age of 15.
  • 1 in 5 women have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15.
  • 85% of Australian women have been sexually harassed.
  • 1 in 6 women have experienced stalking since the age of 15.

So come on social commentators, journalists, bloggers. Let’s address this problem as it is. People listen to you, and we all have a responsibility to lead change.


Building a purpose (written for Leadership Victoria)

I don’t really know how old I was when I knew I wanted to do something that could help change the world, something that could make a real difference, I just know I was young. That desire to be part of something, to lead change and see something better has been with me for as long as I can remember.

As a young person, I kind of lost my way, went off the tracks, failed high school and ended up working in a fish factory. It was making fish pate that was a defining moment in my life. I was up to my arms in a kipper mincing machine and asked myself “Was this what I wanted?” “Was this who I aspired to be?” “Where was the girl who wanted to change the world?” It was in that moment I decided to go back to school and repeat my final year, a tough choice, but the only choice for me.

That has stuck with me though out my career and I have never settled for “any job” I want an extraordinary job, with a remarkable organisation one that makes a real difference in the world – and I have been lucky to have found that throughout my career. I believe for purpose organisations influence shape and create social cohesion, they offer a sense of direction, and create meaning in our world.

As I look back at the girl in the fish factory, who she was and how she got there, and how one person believing in her was the change that she needed I learnt the value that one person can make the greatest difference.

For me, my values are at the centre of who I am and how I lead. Everyone deserves a second chance, and I want to see people have the opportunity to live life to their fullest potential. As a CEO of several for purpose organisations, I lead with passion and energy and a strong belief in humanity.   The organisations I have led work side by side with people experiencing mental illness, drug addiction, homelessness, crime and incarceration. People who too often find themselves isolated, alone and on the outer. We believe in change, in hope and in recovery. Our strategies are creative and bold. We are here to lead and create change.

Folio has been a great experience for me in understanding my “true north” what drives me, and how I can harness this to help bring about even greater social change in the community. I have learnt that my passion and energy have been my greatest leadership assets throughout my career, helping me build a purpose, vision and a sense of unity in an organisation, taking people along on the journey of social change.  I have been able to add to my strengths though the Harthill’s experience and see areas of further growth for me personally which will, I believe lead to even greater societal and social impact.

One person can make a difference and together a for purpose organisation can make an impact!