GET REAL: Podcast

Get Real - Talking mental health and disability

Talking mental health and disability

What’s it like to live with a mental health condition, or a disability, or both? How can we make life better for people who face these complex challenges in their lives?

GET REAL: Talking Mental Health and Disability presents frank and fearless conversations about mental health and disability, including people with lived experience, frontline workers in the industry, as well as policy-makers and advocates.

Australian Podcast Awards Finalist 2021
National Disability Awards 2023 - Media Award

#9 on list of Top 20 best Australian Mental Health podcasts 2023 (Feedspot)

#10 on Top 13 Mental Health Podcasts for Any Listener (Clarity Clinic, USA) alongside The Happiness Lab (Yale University), Unlocking Us (Brene Brown) and The Social Work podcast (Loyola University Chicago School of Social Work).

Get Real (has) the goal of having frank conversations regarding the experience of living with mental illness and disabilities. This podcast is validating for those who live with disabilities, and those who are hoping to learn more about that experience.” Sarah Kelly, Clarity Clinic (Chicago).

Episode 50:
Lived Experience (Part 19) Zoe Simmons – living with chronic pain, surviving a natural disaster and writing to smash stigmas

This is the nineteenth episode in our Lived Experience series, where we are speaking with some remarkable people who have experienced and overcome adversity, and who are sharing their stories in a way that might help other people in need of support.

It’s also our 50th episode!

In this episode of GET REAL we meet Zoe Simmons, a journalist and writer who lives with bipolar, anxiety and chronic pain and speaks candidly about symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which emerged after Zoe survived the natural disaster known as the Black Summer bushfires in New South Wales which burned over several months in 2019 and 2020. Zoe is currently working on a book detailing lived experiences that emerged from those fires and the support needed for people and communities who have experienced bushfires. 

Zoe is also a dedicated advocate for people with mental health and disability, in particular sharing about the invisible barriers of living with these so that awareness and conditions in society can change.

You can find out more about Zoe and her work at her website
Zoe is on Twitter @ItbeginswithZ

Episode 49:
Lived Experience (Part 18) Emma Benoit: surviving my suicide attempt as a teenager and what came after

Listener note: This episode discusses suicide. If you are affected by anything discussed in this episode contact:

In this episode of GET REAL we meet Emma Benoit, from Louisiana in the United States. At age 16 Emma was a varsity cheerleader for her high school’s top sports teams with a supportive family and lots of friends. But what no one knew was that Emma was struggling with anxiety and depression. Emma’s life appeared perfect to outsiders and she thought no one would understand why she wasn’t happy or content with her life because from the outside, she appeared to have it all. 

Emma attempted suicide and became paralysed as a result. 

In the United States, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people aged 10-34. In Australia, suicide is the leading cause of death among Australians aged 15–24.

As you’ll hear Emma share, her life purpose is now to share her experience and mental health journey with other teenagers, their families, schools and communities. In particular, she’s passionately advocating for more support in schools to help students to access education and support for their mental health.

Emma’s documentary, directed by Greg Dicharry, is called My Ascension – a feature-length film that was created to inspire and educate audiences, while providing a spark to help individuals and communities save lives and enhance suicide prevention efforts. WATCH preview 

  • Follow Emma on Instagram @benoitemma
  • Follow Emma’s Facebook page My Ascension
  • Find out more about Hope Squad, a a peer-to-peer suicide prevention program that’s currently running in around 1,200 schools across 35 states in the USA and Canada. 

Episode 48:
Lived Experience (Part 17) Bob Marmion: A Retired Police Officer’s PTSD Story

This is the seventeenth episode in our Lived Experience series, where we speak with some remarkable people who have experienced and overcome adversity, and who are sharing their stories in a way that might help other people in need of support. 

In this episode we meet Dr Bob Marmion PhD – a retired police officer, secondary school teacher, historian and author. Bob was a police officer for 15 years, serving in Victoria Police in both uniform and the Criminal Investigation Branch as a detective. He was involved in the investigation of many serious crimes including murders and manslaughter, armed robbery, fraud, arson and sexual offences.

Bob was medically discharged from the police after exposure to multiple traumatic experiences that led to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a marriage breakdown and drug and alcohol addiction mixed with suicidal thoughts. 

He shares with us:

  • How he lives with PTSD and how he discovered he had the condition
  • How he changed his life direction after leaving the Police
  • How writing about his experiences in his memoir The Price We Pay has been part of his discovery and healing process, which is helping others too.

To find out more Bob’s writing and historical research work go to

Episode 47:
Self-care – what it is and why it is important

We’re continuing our conversations about mental health and ways we can take care ourselves, and each other. 

It’s been quite a year. The COVID-19 pandemic has been draining for people in so many ways and as a consequence of the sudden change to how we have to live our lives and mental health has been at the forefront of a national conversation like never before. 

This is our final episode for 2021 and we thought it would be timely to talk about self-care – what is self-care? How do we practice self-care and why is it important? 

Joining us for this episode is Donna Markham and Lynne Souquet who both have lived experience of implementing self-care into their lives while managing careers that support the wellbeing of others. 

Lynne shares that a “wake up call” for her was an unexpected health episode this year that forced her to reckon with how she was looking after herself.  

“I’ll admit that I was probably the role model for how not to do self-care,” Lynne shares. 

“Due to not looking after myself, I wasn’t listening to my body…I was forced into practising self-care and talking to others about it”. 

Lynne says that the saying “make time for your wellness, or you will be forced to make time for your illness” is something she reminds herself of often, and shares with other people. 

Donna shares that she prioritises self-care so she can be the best for herself and her family. 

“We shouldn’t wait until it’s too late. Another great analogy is thinking about fitting your own oxygen mask before you fit someone else’s, because you can’t care for others unless you care for yourself,” Donna says. 

“We’ve just got to normalise it (self-care). So, part of normalising is talking about it.” 

Episode 46:
Lived Experience (Part 16) Jill Stark – alcohol, anxiety and mental health

In this episode we meet Jill Stark, a Melbourne-based journalist, best-selling author and mental health advocate.

Jill specialises in writing about social justice, mental health and health issues affecting Australians including the nation’s binge drinking culture.  It was while writing these award-winning articles back in 2011, published in The Age, that Jill had a reckoning with her own drinking habits.  

This led to Jill’s best-selling book High Sobriety: My Year Without Booze which explores drinking culture in both Scotland, where she grew up, and in Australia, through the lens of her own relationship with alcohol.

“I was internally wrestling with my own relationship with alcohol… and as I said in High Sobriety, during the week I writing about Australia’s alcohol problem and on the weekends, I was writing myself off…,” Jill says.

Jill’s shared openly about her life-long struggle with anxiety and depression, and experienced a mental health crisis at a time of her life where on the outside, she was experiencing career and writing success.

Her second book Happy Never After: why the happiness fairytale is driving us mad (and how I flipped the script) begins with her experiencing a panic attack at work. This was the start of what Jill says was the darkest period of her life.

“That was the last time I was in the newsroom for nearly five months…it escalated from there. I couldn’t work, I could barely leave the house…”

“I had thought, unconsciously…that once I had all of these external things that would prove that I was a worthy, valuable human, that I would feel whole, and I would feel happy and at peace with myself…I could have had Ryan Gosling under one arm and a Pulitzer Prize under the other, it wouldn’t have been enough, because underneath at all, I didn’t feel like I was enough. I felt like there was something missing.”

Jill’s hard-earned work on her mental health and her insights offer hope and connection to anyone doing it tough, because she knows what it’s like when you’re not OK.  

“To me good mental health is accepting all of yourself, not just the shiny parts we put up on Facebook and Instagram,” Jill says.

Jill’s latest book is When You’re Not Ok: a toolkit for tough times.

To find out more about Jill go to her website or follow her on Instagram @JillStark__ where she shares candidly about life, mental health and her advocacy work. 

Episode 45:
Pressures on mental health and support service helplines during COVID-19

We’re continuing our conversations about the mental health system, both in Victoria and in other states and the organisations that form part of this essential health service.  

We know that the mental health system in Victoria, and in the other states and territories of Australia were already struggling to cope with demand, and that the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly blown out those pressures. Mental health support organisations are seeing steep increases in the requests for support, in particular crisis helplines and support referral services.  

Joining host Robyn Haydon for this episode is ermha365 CEO Karenza Louis-Smith to talk with guests Joe Ball, CEO of Switchboard Victoria and Nick Tebbey, National Executive Officer of Relationships Australia about the pressures on mental health support services, in particular crisis lines and referral services during COVID-19. 

Joe makes the point that the high level of demand for mental health services, particularly during the past two years of the pandemic, was a sign that people really needed help. 

“I feel like it’s not necessarily that more people feel like they can reach out, I think it’s more that people feel like they have to reach out,” Joe said. 

“I think that people only call helplines, when they really, really need to, and far too many people don’t call them when they really, really need to.” 

Nick thinks there has also been a shift in access to services because there is more of an acceptability in talking about our mental health. 

“COVID gave us a reason to talk about mental health that was slightly different from anything we’ve had before. And so suddenly, we did see more conversations, more happening in the mainstream media, more happening in politics…to invest more heavily in mental health supports.” 

Joe Ball is CEO of Switchboard Victoria, a community-based not for profit organisation providing a peer driven service for LGBTIQA+ communities and their allies, friends, support workers and families, including Rainbow Door, a free specialist LGBTIQA+ helpline providing information and support. Switchboard is also the Victorian Partner of the national crisis service QLife.  

Nick Tebbey is the National Executive Officer of Relationships Australia a not-for-profit national provider of relationship support services for individuals, families and communities.  

Episode 44:
Lived Experience (Part 15) Bruce Perham – prison officers and PTSD and confronting my own trauma

In this episode of GET REAL we meet Bruce Perham, a social worker of more than 30 years who is also a family and narrative therapist. He is the director of a counselling collective called Talking Differently, which specialises in the area of occupational fatigue within front-line responder professions.

Bruce’s career has mainly been in the not-for-profit sector and more than a decade ago he moved into working with first responders, in particular prison officers, around the psychological impact of their constant exposure to traumatic incidents through their occupation.

This experience and the organisational training and counselling Bruce has conducted over the years led him to write a book called Code Blue: Prison Officer in Danger.

We know through some of the conversations we’ve had on this podcast that first responders are particularly vulnerable to trauma. In Code Blue, Bruce makes the point that the work of Prison Officers and their day-to-day experiences are largely hidden, unlike the police or firefighters or ambulance officers. The public don’t see what life in prison is like or understand that prison officers are in a workplace of constant high-stress that requires vigilance at all times.

Bruce also shares with host Robyn Haydon about his own experience with trauma and mental health. When Bruce was a young social worker, he experienced anxiety and depression, triggered by a home visit he did one day at work with a mother who was in distress.

“It was just like a grenade went off…I was just trying to hold myself together…that was the beginning of something not being right,” Bruce explains.

This led to Bruce discovering that the death of his twin sister Leanne, when they were infants, had a traumatic impact on him that he never realised.

“Looking back, I see more clearly that the workplace was the stage that retriggered my childhood trauma and ostensibly had caused me so much turmoil,” Bruce says.

“It was a long time later that I realised it was that visit to that mother that really triggered back into my own mother…the level of grief in that exchange was the arrow that broke all the defences down.”

You can find out more about Bruce’s work and his book Code Blue: Prison Officer in Danger at

Listener notes: When talking about his early career in the 1980s in disability, Bruce references a book and movie called Annie’s Coming Out. This was a pivotal moment in awareness and advocacy for people with a disability in Australia. The book and movie are about a girl with cerebral palsy, unable to communicate and living in a government institution from an early age. Her therapist works with her to learn to communicate and then begins a legal fight when Annie turned 18 to get her released from government care.

One of Bruce’s earlier workplaces was as a social worker, working with families who had children with cerebral palsy. The name of the organisation was then the Spastic Children’s Society of Victoria (now known as Scope).

Episode 43:
Lived Experience (Part 14) Robert Macpherson – PTSD in humanitarian aid workers

In this episode of GET REAL we meet Robert “Bob” Macpherson, a veteran who served in the United States Marines for 20 years, serving in three conflicts in Vietnam, Iraq, and Somalia. 

After retiring from the Marines, he joined the humanitarian organisation CARE, where he spent fifteen years directing global risk mitigation for staff and vulnerable populations and led humanitarian response missions worldwide, including Rwanda, Haiti and Afghanistan. 

For Bob, the cumulative effect of all these experiences resulted in being diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder. 

Bob has detailed the experiences of aid workers he has met and worked with in a book called  Stewards of Humanity: Lighting the Darkness in Humanitarian Crisis.  

Bob feels strongly about the need for education around the experiences of humanitarian aid workers mental health support for them.

His first encounter with humanitarian agencies, also known as Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) was when he was a Marine in Somalia.

“At first, I thought they were crazy, running around Somalia with no weapons and here we were armed to the teeth. The more I watched them and the more I got to know them I began to truly appreciate who they were and what they were doing,” Bob reflects.

Bob says his book is an attempt to recognise the sacrifices of women and men who quietly work in terrible situations for the sole reason to help others. 

Part of Bob’s journey with PTSD is the help of someone special – his service dog, a Golden Labrador called Blue.

Blue has helped Bob accept his PTSD and manage it day to day:

“Blue has helped me get out of my shell a bit. Because he is like a magnet for people. he just looks happy. He is happy.”

Bob wrote a story about Blue for Reader’s Digest magazine’s America’s Best Pet Pals and it was chosen as the winner in the “Lifesaver” category.  Read: How Blue, the Big Yella Fella, Helped Turned This Veteran’s Life Around

You can find out more about Bob at his website.

Episode 42:
Carers’ experience and reactions to the Royal Commission

We’re continuing our conversations about the findings of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System. These findings will reshape mental health services, not just in Victoria but potentially across Australia.

In this episode we talk about some of the recommendations for reform specific to carers.

The royal commission findings have specific recommendations that will affect carers, including eight family and carer led centres across Victoria and elevating the leadership and promoting the valued role of family members and carers throughout the mental health and wellbeing system.

Carers provide a service that would otherwise fall on the health system – in Victoria they provide $3.7 billion worth of unpaid care annually.

People don’t always identify as carers – they see themselves caring for someone they love.

Our guests today are Karen Rule and Susan Lovegrove, two women with lived experience of caring for children (now adults) with mental health conditions and disability and they have also channelled this to provide their learnings and experience for advocacy and support to others.

Karen’s youngest daughter is autistic and was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder at age 17. Sue has a son with Down syndrome. Both women share some of the challenges they’ve encountered as parents and carers and also the ways they’ve grown through the experience.

Karen: “In looking after myself and modelling that for my daughter, I think it’s helped with her mental health as well”.

Sue: “I fell into postnatal depression after the birth my youngest son and that’s when I first learnt about caring for myself”.

Our first episode of Get Real was about the experience of carers, and it’s our most listened to episode to date, so we know that there’s an interest around the challenges and needs of this very important group of people.

CONTENT NOTE: if you have been affected by anything discussed in this episode, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or go to

Useful info:

Tandem Carers – Tandem is the Victorian peak body representing family and friends supporting people living with mental health issues.

Down Syndrome Australia

PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia)

Episode 41:
Lived Experience (Part 13) Heidi Everett – writing fearlessly about my psych reality

In this episode of GET REAL we meet Heidi Everett, who has lived experience of psychiatric wards and what she describes as living with a “psych reality”. Melbourne-based Heidi is an advocate, writer, poet, producer, performer, public speaker…and that’s not all.

“My creativity and mental health advocacy are joined at the hip. Both require a little bit of courage and a cheeky attitude to have a go and not fear failing.”

She’s written a powerful debut book called My Friend Fox about her experiences. This book goes beyond Heidi’s mental health file and tell in her own words and memories the living, breathing experience of her life. It takes readers beyond a person’s diagnosis.

Heidi ended up in a public psychiatric ward when she was in her early 20s, with what she describes as an allergic stress reaction.

“I’d been struggling quite a bit living on the streets, hanging around some pretty interesting people but life wasn’t really quite how it should be attempted,” Heidi explains.

She was diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder, though Heidi prefers to refer to it as schizo-affective, taking out the clinical term.

“I think (stress reaction) is behind so many diagnoses of mental health realities…we talk about complex trauma a lot in this world today and I feel that’s behind everything.”

Heidi wants anyone who reads her book to see people in the mental health system, “not at victims of a mental illness but as survivors” and to see that those in psych wards and on the street have “Deep and ancient trenches etched into our lifelines”. With creative expression at the heart of all she does, Heidi encourages others to tell their story in whatever way they’d like. “It’s your story, you tell it”.

You can find out more about Heidi and her book My Friend Fox at

Schizy Inc is the collective of creative advocates with diverse lived experience of mental health.

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

Episode 40:
Lived Experience (Part 12)  John S Payne – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in emergency responders

This is the 40th episode of Get Real: talking mental health and disability. It’s special milestone for the podcast, and for ermha365 because it’s coming up to forty years since we were established by a group of passionate carers who were concerned about the lack of support services for their loved ones who were experiencing a mental illness.

For this episode of GET REAL we meet John S. Payne 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. 173 people died in these devastating fires, more than 400 were injured and 450,000 hectares of land was burned.

John detailed his experiences in a memoir ‘What My Eyes Have Seen’, to share his lived experiences with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, a condition that he was diagnosed with a few years after Black Saturday.

Talking about the beginnings of what he now knows was PTSD and his body’s signs (including several migraines within one week whereas he’d only experienced these a handful of times) John said: “In those early stages I was more concerned…with the welfare of everybody else and I wasn’t listening to myself, to my own body’s reactions…”.

John explains his PTSD developed over several years and caused panic attacks, impacts on his short term memory, his moods, ability to make decisions and he lost interest in things he used to enjoy.

“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.”

It was a conversation with his daughter, who said, “Dad, there’s something wrong” that 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’s journey with PTSD has seen him become a passionate advocate for mental health and suicide awareness to encourage people to get help and know the warning signs of this condition earlier. 

Content note: If you’ve been affected by anything you’ve heard in this episode you can phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or go to

You can find out more about John and his book “What My Eyes Have Seen” at his website :

Phoenix Australia is the National Centre of Excellence in Posttraumatic Mental Health.

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

Episode 39
Lived Experience (Part 11) Anna Spargo-Ryan – Parenting with mental illness

Anna Spargo-Ryan 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.

Mum of two Anna had her first daughter when she was 20 and prior to her pregnancy had a psychosis where she was “really unwell”. For Anna her pregnancy and arrival of her baby represented some “some structure that I could understand in a world that had become very strange to me…”

Already living with depression and anxiety, Anna says that she assumed the existing conditions would “roll in all together” but says she was contending with “multiple symptomology” at one time that was different to what she’d experienced before.

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.”

Anna also shares honestly about mental health in her writing and also on social media, in particular Twitter, which can be a brutal space.

Anna finds Twitter a supportive place but knows that it’s not that way for everyone: “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”.

You can find out more about Anna at her website.

Read Anna’s article A tale of parenthood and mental illness in Frankie magazine.

Content note: If you’ve been affected by anything you’ve heard in this episode you can phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or go to

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

Episode 38
LGBTIQ+ mental health and reactions to the Royal Commission

We’re continuing our conversations about the findings of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System. These findings will reshape mental health services, not just in Victoria but potentially across Australia.

The focus of this episode is on the recommendations for reform specific to LGBTIQ+ mental health services.

For the LGBTIQ+ community, there’s “diversity within diversity” – for example First Nations queer people, queer people with a disability – and to provide genuine help, services need to understand and support intersectionality.

Reform is even more pressing with the COVID-19 pandemic further highlighting the urgent need for a redesign of Victoria’s mental health system that is co-designed by the people who use it.

We invited Karen Field, CEO Drummond Street Services, which also incorporates Stepfamilies Australia and Queerspace and Carolyn Gillespie, Director of Clinical Services at Thorne Harbour Health (formerly the Victorian AIDS Council) to talk about what reform means for mental health care for the LGBTIQ+ community.

Services like Drummond Street Services and Thorne Harbour Health see firsthand that LGBTIQ+ people experience higher rates than the general population of mental health issues like anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation and the mental health service system currently in place is not always a system that’s safe for them.

In fact, Karen Field says that during the past 12 months was a trebling of the acute mental health and suicidal ideation presentations at Drummond Street Services compared to the previous financial year – an experience that has been seen across LGBTIQ+ health care providers.

The co-host for this episode is Karenza Louis-Smith, CEO of ermha365.

Content note: If you’ve been affected by anything you’ve heard in this episode you can phone Qlife on 1800184 527 (3pm to midnight 7 days) or Lifeline on 13 11 14 or go to

For more info on services for LGBTIQ+ people:

Queerspace – supports focused on relationships, families, parenting and young people

Thorne Harbour Health – a community-controlled organisation, governed by its members, and working for sex, sexuality and gender diverse communities.

Rainbow Door – a free service for the LGBTIQA+ community, you do not need a referral to use this service.

Episode 37
Lived Experience (part 10): Jessie Aiton – late diagnosed autism

In this episode of Get Real we meet Jessie Aiton. Jessie is an experienced radio producer and public speaker, having worked for the ABC in regional Western Australia and 3AW radio in Melbourne.

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…”.

Jessie suspected 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…”.

And then at age 34 she discovered she was autistic, and as she’ll tell us, this has changed her life and fuelled a passion for providing peer support for other women and girls who are autistic.

Jessie writes on her website The Lost Girl:

“recognising that you are autistic is just the starting point to unravelling your life up to this point, and this is a process unique to autistic women.”

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.

There’s also current evidence that around 50–70% of autistic people also experience mental health conditions and this presents higher in women and girls.

You can find out more about Jessie at her website The Lost Girl and her “Have a Cuppa with Me” peer support service.

Content note: If you’ve been affected by anything you’ve heard in this episode you can phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or go to

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

Episode 36
Veterans’ mental health with RSL Victoria’s Buzz Lawson and Dr Carolyn Deans

According to research by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs nearly half of Australian veterans who leave the Australian Defence Force (ADF) experience a mental health disorder within five years, which highlights the challenges associated with transitioning out of full-time military service and into civilian life.  

The research also found that only 10 per cent of ex-ADF members choose to seek access to veteran health care services. 

The Returned & Services League of Australia is a well-known and highly regarded organisation that supports all current and former serving members of the ADF or of an Allied Defence Force, their spouses, widow or widower, and their dependents.

The organisation 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.

For this episode of GET REAL 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.

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.

Content note: If you’ve been affected by anything you’ve heard in this episode you can phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or go to

Veteran Central (1300 MIL VET):

Veteran Employment Program:

Volunteer at RSL:

Open Arms is a counselling and support service for veterans and their families with a 24hr phone line on 1800 011 046 and online resources

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

Episode 35
Lived Experience (Part 9): Ruth Clare – the effects of war on families

Melbourne-based author and teacher Ruth Clare’s memoir Enemy has been critically acclaimed and described as “Weaving a striking personal narrative with a revelatory exploration of the effects of war”. 

Ruth is a survivor of childhood violence. Her father, traumatised from service in the Vietnam War, was violent and unpredictable.

In this episode of GET REAL Ruth talks about her journey of healing from childhood violence and understanding the connection with her father’s wartime service and his behaviour.

On writing her memoir, Ruth says:

“I kept waiting for the book that was like my story to appear…I kept waiting and waiting…and no one was writing about it…”

Ruth also shares openly and passionately about taking stigma away from the act of seeking help for mental health, being brave and her advocacy for removing the specific barriers that children experiencing violence in the home face in getting the support they need.

Open Arms is a counselling and support service for veterans and their families with a 24 hour phone line on 1800 011 046 and online resources

You can find out more about Ruth at her website

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

Content note: If you’ve been affected by anything you’ve heard in this episode you can phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or go to

Episode 34
Next to Normal – the ground-breaking musical exploring mental illness

A musical may not be the first thing that comes to mind as a way to convey the experiences of mental illness and how people cope in a crisis.

However, in this episode of GET REAL podcast we speak to two people who will be 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”. The show centres around a mother who is traumatised by loss and the unpredictable effects sparked by her bipolar diagnosis.

Our guests are director Mark Taylor and actress Queenie van de Zandt who 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. Since then the production has been staged around the world and was also awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2010.

As we recorded this episode Melbourne was in a snap lockdown due to COVID-19 transmissions and Mark and Queenie also talk about the impact the pandemic has had on the arts and how they’ve been taking care of their own mental health.

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

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

Content note: If you’ve been affected by anything you’ve heard in this episode you can phone Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Episode 33
Lived Experience (Part 8) – Parenting my transgender child

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.

Episode 32
Lived Experience (Part 7): Lauren McGovern – transgender & mental health

In this honest, raw and illuminating episode of GET REAL, we are joined by Lauren McGovern, who shares her experience of being a transgender woman in Australia, her hopes for the future, and how allies can better support trans people with their mental health.

Lauren is a mental health consumer supported by our PSS program. A big shout-out to Lynne Souquet, Cassandra Turnbull, and Morgyn Benstead for helping us to arrange this conversation, and for Lauren to come and chat to ABC News recently. You can read that article here.

Lauren grew up in Tasmania, where LGBT rights were a bitterly divisive issue for decades. Although things have changed since then, Tasmania imposed the harshest penalties in the Western world for homosexual activity until 1997; fellow Tasmanian Hannah Gadsby has called it “a really harmful and horrible place to grow up in the closet”.

Being trans can unfortunately predispose a person to a higher level of mental health challenges and distress, due to the emotional pain that can come with transitioning and/or continuing to live with gender dysphoria. This pain can lead to depression and anxiety, and it is these mental illnesses that are the problem – not, in itself, being trans.

In today’s episode, Lauren speaks honestly and openly about her experiences of 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. She also shares her grief at the loss of previously close relationships with her four children – who have not found her transition easy – and speaks to her kids directly about her love for them, and her hopes that they will reconnect again some day.

Lauren writes beautiful poetry about her mental health journey in her blog, Shortened by Anxiety, shared here with permission.

Content note: this episode discusses suicide and suicide attempts. If you find any of this discussion distressing, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Growing up and hating who looked at me from the mirror.
Parents love, non-existent, left me feeling bitter.
Knowing that each lap around the sun just made me fitter.
I’m stronger than I ever was. Your hate won’t make me wither.

Lauren McGovern
Shortened by Anxiety (blog)

Episode 31
Reactions to Mental Health Royal Commission

The findings of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System are something that will shape the future of mental health services, not just in Victoria but potentially across Australia.

Every year around one in five Victorians experience mental health issues, and about 3 per cent of the population — roughly 200,000 people — have a “severe” mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

The final report from the royal commission has found that Victoria’s mental health system operates in crisis mode, has “catastrophically failed to live up to expectations” and must be rebuilt.

There are 65 recommendations outlined in the report (the Victorian Government says it will implement all of them) including the phasing out of seclusion and restraints treatments over the next decade, and making compulsory treatments an option of last resort.

So, what’s next now that the report is on the table and the real work of implementing its recommendations is about to start? We invited Angus (Gus) Clelland, CEO Mental Health Victoria and VMIAC CEO Maggie Toko for their take on what the recommendations mean for mental health services – and the next steps.

Episode 30
Creativity, disability and mental health – what’s the connection?

In this episode you will hear our special guest Sue Roff, Executive Director at Arts Project Australia, and ermha365’s Georgia Symmons explore how the arts and creativity have the power to unleash potential, support recovery and inspire and challenge what is possible for people who are living with mental health conditions and disability.

Arts Project Australia is a creative social enterprise that supports artists with intellectual disabilities through their studio and gallery, promoting their work and advocating for their inclusion in contemporary art practice. Initiatives discussed in this episode include Satellite Arts (a remote program supported by professional staff artists), (an inclusive, curated international art platform) and Collingwood Yard, the new location of the Arts Project Australia gallery.

For more on ermha365’s mental health programs, including the new Hive program in Geelong, check out our website.

Episode 29
Why are there so many people with disabilities in prison?

People with a disability are chronically over-represented in the criminal justice system in Australia, making up 29% of the prison population, despite being only 18% the general population.

This is a situation that has to change, something that the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability is hearing very clearly.

Karenza Louis-Smith talks to Patrick McGee, national manager for policy, advocacy and research at the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations, and Eileen Baldry AO, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Equity Diversity and Inclusion and Professor of Criminology at UNSW Sydney.

We have only just scratched the surface of this very important topic – expect to hear more later this year.

Episode 28
Lived Experience series (Part 6) – Susan Berg, The Girl Who Lived

In this powerful and moving episode of GET REAL, the first in our Lived Experience series for this year, we are joined by special guest Susan Berg.

At 15, Susan Berg was the sole survivor of a boating accident that claimed the lives of her Mum, Dad and 16-year old brother, Bill. Suffering from survivor guilt, she delved into a miserable life of self-loathing, anxiety and despair. It took Susan decades to learn the tools to heal her heart and find peace and happiness within herself.

In 2015 Susan’s 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. Susan is now an ultra-marathon swimmer, training for a solo crossing of the English Channel!

Susan chats with Georgia Symmons about her life; her recovery; the challenges she has faced; and the ones she is looking forward to in the future. She also shares her thoughts on the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System, in particular, the importance of infusing lived experience into every aspect of how the mental health system works.

If you have found any of this discussion distressing, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14. To learn more about Susan, her work, and her journey, please visit

Episode 27
The outlook for people with a disability in 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.

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. Karenza Louis-Smith, CEO of ermha365, moderates 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.

Episode 26
Homelessness: where we are, and what’s ahead

In our first new GET REAL episode of 2021, we are delighted to talk to some very important people who do vital, often unseen work with people experiencing homelessness.

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. Tim and Rosie from our Community Connect program describe what it was like supporting people experiencing homelessness during COVID-19 lockdowns last year. And Georgia Symmons, our Victorian State Manager of Strategy & Service Transformation, discusses exciting new initiatives including the From Homelessness to a Home program and Big Housing Build, which will ensure that 2,000 more Victorians living with mental illness will soon have a home.

Summer Series
Episode 5 – Peer Workers, lived experience and mental health recovery

Over summer, we’re revisiting some of our favourite GET REAL episodes of 2020.

It’s not long now until we will see the final report from the Royal Commission into Mental Health in Victoria. The interim report, published in November last year, reflects the Commission’s desire to incorporate lived experience in all aspects of the mental health system, including the delivery of mental health services.

In practice, this is likely to mean many more opportunities for peer support workers; people who help others with their mental health in part through their own, lived experience of mental health challenges.

In this episode, Karenza Louis-Smith talks with Grace and Donna, who work at ermha365 as peer support workers. We hope you enjoy it.

Summer Series
Episode 4 – Housing for people with high complex needs

Over summer, we’re revisiting some of our favourite GET REAL episodes of 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has made housing a hot-button issue for government. Since we recorded this episode, the Victorian government alone announced it is pumping $5.3 billion into building more than 12,000 social and affordable housing properties to boost Victoria’s housing supply. Our guests on this episode are movers and shakers in the housing advocacy space, who have been working to change the housing system for many years and achieve this result – among others yet to come. I hope you enjoy this robust discussion.

Summer Series
Episode 3 – Mental health, disability, and the criminal justice system

Over summer, we’re revisiting some of our favourite GET REAL episodes of 2020. People living with disabilities and mental health conditions are over-represented in the justice system, something we at ermha365 see in our work every day. In this, one of our most popular episodes, we ask why this happens, and talk about how we amplified these issues by taking them to the Royal Commission on Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Discrimination against People with Disabilities.

Summer Series
Episode 2 – Celebrating PARCs

Over summer, we’re revisiting some of our favourite GET REAL episodes of 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified public interest in how we deliver mental health services and support. PARCs are a short-term, residential mental health treatment services located in the community that provide an essential recovery-oriented service. ermha365 has been managing PARCs for almost 15 years and during 2020, we ran two GET REAL episodes celebrating PARCS – there is a lot to celebrate — but this is a highlights episode, containing interviews with some of the many people who shape and stay at ermha365 PARCs. We hope you enjoy it.

Summer Series
Episode 1 – Caring for Carers

Over summer, we’re revisiting some of our favourite GET REAL episodes of 2020. Caring for Carers was our first episode, recorded in early 2020, and is still one of our favourites. In this episode, we talk to Lynn and SJ, both carers with lived experience, about what it’s really like to support someone with a complex mental health issue or a disability, and how we can better care for carers – especially during challenging times. We hope you enjoy it.

Episode 20
From Illness, to Wellness, to Recovery: Suicide Prevention

Approximately 1 million people across the globe commit suicide each year, and yet we don’t talk about it.  Suicide is such a taboo subject.

Christmas is often a triggering season for people carrying mixed emotions of love and joy and pleasure alongside loneliness, grief and loss, pain and suffering.

Ingrid Ozols speaks on GET REAL:  Talking Mental Health and Disabilities about the strategies she has learnt managing her mental illnesses and suicidal ideation. She talks about her experiences supporting others as well as practicing good self-care. Ingrid shares her knowledge and wisdom across the globe.

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 of connect to them here:

Episode 19
Invisible Disabilities

Not all disabilities are visible – in fact most aren’t!  People with invisible disabilities face all the same barriers as people with obvious disabilities, but compounded by the lack of obvious impairment. 

Attitudinal barriers, in particular, are rife – with well-meaning members of the public interrogating people who don’t seem to have a disability (for example, are not in a wheelchair) about using a disabled parking space or toilet. Confronted like this, people with invisible disabilities are forced to declare their disability to total strangers, or argue their case – often in a public space.  The humiliation often leads people to fear going out in public, resulting in isolation. To celebrate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we invited Lynn Russell, CEO of Invisible Disabilities Australia and Sarah Bayley, Senior Manager, Complex Services at ermha365 to talk about these challenges, and offer some tips on how we can all improve our behaviour around this issue.

Episode 18
Lived Experience series (Part 5), Yvonne Sillett: The Power of Sharing Your Story in Mental Health Recovery from LGBTIQ+ discrimination

Discrimination is unacceptable, and the structures and systems that allow this to happen must be called out.  Discrimination causes people to lose their self-confidence, makes them feel like outsiders – not part of the team; the anger that arises from being ‘othered’ can lead to depression and even suicidal thoughts. 

In this fifth episode of our Lived Experience series, special guest Yvonne Sillett talks about the overt, systemic and intense discrimination she experienced as a lesbian woman in the Australian Army, which left her angry, depressed and at times suicidal.  While significant reforms have occurred in the Army and society as a whole over the past two decades, 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.

Listen to how Yvonne coped, and how she became even more resilient.  Hear how sharing her story not only helped others, but also helped her heal.  Yvonne has also participated in two books: Serving in Silence! (which her story is in) and the recently released titled Pride in Defence, both written by Noah Riseman and Shirleen Robinson. If you have found any of this discussion distressing, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Episode 17
Lived Experience series (Part 4), Peer Workers and Mental Health Recovery

Peer workers with lived experience provide an important complement to the psychosocial support teams delivering mental health services.  They improve the recovery orientation of mental health services, by offering genuine and authentic engagement with the people who use these services. This results in a reduction in hospital admissions and reduced load on other practitioners.

For many people, peer workers with lived experience offer an improved experience of mental health treatment, care or support because they bring their own stories to their work. Their depth of understanding of the challenges of mental illness creates real empathy with clients, and also delivers unique insights to their co-workers who don’t have lived experience.  Most importantly, peer workers with lived experience are role models for recovery.  By sharing their journey of recovery, including strategies and techniques that sustain a balanced mental health, these role models exhibit positive, sustainable, and successful recovery. 

Episode 16
Lived Experience series (Part 3), Graeme Alford: Never Give Up

In the third conversation in our Lived Experience series, Karenza Louis-Smith talks to Graeme Alford: a lawyer, ex-prisoner, and author of the bestselling book Never Give Up – the power of mental toughness.

Growing up in Melbourne, 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, the last time for armed robbery, 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 – and in this conversation he tells Karenza how he got 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.

Episode 15
Lived Experience series (Part 2), Steve Cain – Nothing Is Impossible

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, mental 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. This week, Steve talks to guest host Karenza Louis-Smith about how he 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.

Episode 14
Lived Experience series (Part 1), Hard Cuddles – mental health support for men

Over the next few weeks GET REAL speaks with remarkable men and women who have overcome incredible adversity, and are giving back to those in need of support through their recovery journey.

This week, it’s James Harding and Steven Kline from Hard Cuddles, a peer support program which looks holistically at what it means to be a man in today’s society.  Through a  combination of mentoring and outdoor therapy, James, Steven and their team help men to reconnect with themselves and find ways to overcome the emotional challenges they are facing.

You’ll hear how both James and Steven have overcome huge challenges in their lives – including drug addiction, crime, prison, family and relationship struggles – to build the supports for men they wish they’d had themselves, when life was at its lowest point.

Episode 13
The Royal Commission on the Mental Health System in Victoria – where are we at and where are we heading?

Amidst the COVID challenges our community is facing, it’s easy to forget that there is other important work going on in the world. In ermha365’s world, this includes the work of the Royal Commission on the Mental Health System in Victoria – the first of its kind in Australia.

Eighteen months after it was first established in February 2019, the Royal Commission has made interim recommendations and is due to hand down its final report in February 2021. What are these recommendations? What will they mean for people living with mental health challenges, for their carers and loved ones, and for the service system that provides mental health support? What specific opportunities are likely to come from the Royal Commission’s recommendations in terms of improvements to mental health support, and what kind of gaps and challenges might still remain?

This week, GET REAL talks to an expert panel with a real stake in these outcomes, including Angus Clelland, CEO of Mental Health Victoria; Dr Peter Langkamp, former President of Carers Australia; and Karenza Louis-Smith, CEO of ermha365.

Episode 12
Housing for people with high complex needs

Having a roof over your head is pretty fundamental to meet basic needs in life. It’s also a fundamental human right. All of us need a stable, long term home so we can thrive, and be the best that we can be.  Unfortunately, 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.

When people live well, they do well. This week, GET REAL talks to a panel of experts all working to solve this big gnarly problem: Joseph Connellan of MC Two, one of Australia’s most respected strategic housing consultants; Charles Northcote, CEO of BlueCHP Limited, currently the largest developer of specialist disability housing in Australia; and Frances Sanders, Senior Manager of NDIS services at ermha365, who works every day on individual cases, helping to solve the deep challenges associated with finding safe, suitable and therapeutic housing for the people we support.

Episode 11
Why is a model of practice so important when supporting people with high & complex needs?

This week on GET REAL, we look at what makes support successful when working with people with high and complex needs associated with mental health and disability. At ermha365, where we specialise in delivering this kind of support, we have seen that having a shared approach and a common language – used consistently across our organisation –  is the key to supporting people safely and well. This model of practice is known to us as “the ermha way”.

The ermha way model of practice stems from Positive Behaviour Support frameworks, which acknowledge the universality of all human behaviour. This says that we all do the things we do for a reason. So, we need to understand that reason – to be curious, to dig deep, and be ‘behaviour detectives’ – to find out why people behave the way they do.

Hosted by Karenza Louis-Smith, CEO of ermha365 with special guests Cat Lancaster, Executive Director of Lancaster Consulting Australia – who worked with the team at ermha365 to design the ermha way – and Teresa McClelland, Chief Operations Officer at ermha365.

Episode 10
Celebrating PARCs (Part 2)

In Part 2 of Celebrating PARCs, we take a deep-dive into the experiences of the people who work and stay at PARCs. You’ll hear from Sean Kearns, Day Program Co-ordinator at Barwon Health Mental Health, who has been working at Barwon PARC for 17 years; Sharon, who recently experienced a stay at Barwon PARC; and many of the fabulous ermha365 staff who make PARCs happen.

This two-part episode of GET REAL celebrates PARCS, and the amazing role they play in the mental health recovery journey for many people. If you missed Part 1, catch up here.

For more information, and a video that shows more about the wonderful synergy and partnerships created between clinical mental health, ermha365 staff and mental health consumers at ermha365 PARCs, go to

Episode 9
Careers in Mental Health & Disability

ermha365 is a pretty special place to work for people who want to make a difference and who care about supporting vulnerable people. This week, GET REAL explores career opportunities in mental health and disability with some of ermha365’s passionate and talented staff, including Sarah Waite (our Talent Acquisition Advisor and the “voice of ermha365″ to people who join our team), as well as Sharon Sherwood, Nicole Timmins and Samuel Van De Kerkhof, who are all at different stages in their career with ermha365 and who have a great story to tell about why they choose to work in this sector and with ermha365.

Although this podcast is aimed at an external recruitment audience, it’s a great opportunity to hear more about the back story of some of your colleagues . Hope you enjoy this episode!

Episode 8
Celebrating PARCs (Part 1)

At ermha365, we reckon PARCs are pretty special places. But if you haven’t heard of them before, what is a PARC?

PARC stands for “Prevention And Recovery Care” services.  PARCs 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.

This two-part episode of GET REAL celebrates PARCs, and the amazing role they play in the mental health recovery journey for so many people.

Our special guest is Karen Dixon from Monash University, who helped set up Springvale PARC as the first women-only PARC in Victoria.

Episode 7
Mental health, disability, and the criminal justice system

This week, GET REAL explores the criminal justice system through the lens of complex mental health and disability. 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.

GET REAL explores these issues, as well as ermha365’s six-point plan to address the vulnerabilities and challenges of the people we support.

Guests include Karenza Louis-Smith, CEO ermha365, who has extensive experience in Australia with the criminal justice system and how it affects vulnerable people, and Isabel Calvert, Social Policy, Justice and Advocacy Adviser at ermha365, who has worked internationally over many years in criminal justice reform.

Episode 6
Human Rights and Disability

This week, GET REAL talks about the United Nations Convention of the Rights of People with Disabilities in the NDIS and COVID era.

Despite the robust regulatory framework that protects the human rights of people with disabilities, there are still many challenges to ensuring the fulfilment of everyday rights for people with disabilities. This is particularly true of those with cognitive and mental impairments, and vulnerable groups such as women, remote communities and indigenous peoples. This means that organisations that advocate for and provide services to people with disabilities are instrumental in helping to ensure that they can – and do – exercise their rights.

Guests include Isabel Calvert, ermha365’s Social Policy and Advocacy Advisory (former Social Policy Adviser in the United Nations Disability Program), and Leah Van Poppel, CEO, Women with Disabilities Victoria (the peak body in Victoria for advocacy on disability issues regarding women).

Episode 5
Getting help for your mental health during COVID-19

This week, GET REAL asks a very practical question: where do you go to get help for your mental health, particularly if it is something you’ve struggled with even before COVID-19, or you have an underlying mental health condition, or the advice that’s widely available just doesn’t seem to make a difference for you?

Guests include Karenza Louis-Smith, CEO of ermha365 and Board Member of Mental Health Victoria; Lynne and Cassie, Practice Leaders in ermha365’s Psychosocial Support Program, PSS; and Shandya and Shyleen, a consumer and PSS support worker, talking about how getting support through PSS has helped Shandya to manage her mental health issues and achieve her goals.

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 –

Episode 4
Telehealth: delivering mental health support in a time of social distancing

Now more than ever, people need support with their mental health. This episode explores how ermha365’s mental health team has pivoted to telehealth services to continue to provide care and support to our clients, while maintaining social distancing to help flatten the curve. 

Guests include Sally Wall, ermha365 Manager of Mental Health Services, plus Cass, Jess, Marnie and Clare who provide mental health support services in South Eastern Melbourne and Geelong/Barwon.

For support with your mental health:

In South Eastern Melbourne, contact SEMPHN Access & Referral on 1800 862 363 (8.30am-4.30pm weekdays)  or visit the SEMPHN website and download the referral form –

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.

Episode 3
VROOM VROOM: Virtual Reality training for the psychosocial disability workforce

How do we equip our workforce to support people who are living with psychosocial disabilities?

This week, GET REAL explores an innovative virtual reality training project designed to offer immersive experiences to enable disability support workers to quickly gain competency in this work.

Guests include Thomas MacNamara, Founder and Chief Technical Officer, Lightweave, and Ellen Maple, Project Manager – Learning Design and Development, ermha365.

Episode 2
The disability sector response to COVID-19

People with disabilities are highly vulnerable in the COVID-19 pandemic. Is our government doing enough to help them? What more do people with disabilities – and the organisations that support them – need to get them through this crisis safely?

GET REAL talks to the CEOs of three disability support organisations that have banded together with more than 30 others to lobby the government for the help that the sector desperately needs. Together, this non-affiliated coalition, as part of the NDIS, supports more than 300,000 people with disabilities across Australia, employing thousands of Australians.

Guests include Kate MacRae (CEO Able Australia), Stephanie Gunn (CEO Gateways Support Services) and Karenza Louis-Smith (CEO ermha365).

Episode 1
Who cares? Caring for carers

People who care for a friend of family member are the unsung heroes of our community. Carers provide a service that would otherwise fall on the health system, providing a $15bn contribution to the Victorian economy alone. Yet they often face enormous challenges. In this episode, we talk to three people with lived experience about what it’s really like to support someone with a complex mental health issue or a disability, and how we can better care for carers.