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 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.

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.