What it's like how consumer staff members experience working in mental health
This qualitative descriptive study is about consumer staff members’ experience working in mental health. Three participants with lived experience of mental illness and using services who have worked as staff in direct service delivery roles in mental health in New Zealand provided their personal accounts in semi structured interviews. The research aims to inform understanding of the part consumer staff enact in the workplace, benefits and rewards of their role, challenges faced, and meanings derived from their work. This enquiry was prompted by the increasing recognition of consumer staff within the mental health recovery paradigm. Relevant literature was reviewed that provides the philosophical context and examines this employment practice from a range of perspectives. Thematic analysis was carried out to interpret the interview data which is presented in the findings as the four main themes that emerged: ‘being paid to be myself’; ‘the mixed blessing of being a consumer’; ‘actually making a difference’; and ‘benefits gained from the job’. The findings align with and extend existing knowledge. This study revealed that while working in mental health poses some challenges, consumer staff predominantly experience their work role as rewarding, satisfying and worthwhile. They benefit from working in mental health whilst making a valuable contribution to clients and the system. Of note is the special nature of the relationships consumer staff establish with clients based on shared experience. This finding lends support to current endeavours to develop the consumer staff workforce. In order to promote and ensure a viable consumer staff workforce, further research is recommended to identify what needs to occur to enable successful employment experiences. Although tentative, the findings support individualised employment arrangements which address individual consumer staff member’s needs. It is proposed that mental health organisations model strategies on recovery approaches to cater flexibly to the uniqueness of each staff member and their changing circumstances. It is suggested that what proves useful in retaining consumer staff has the potential to improve the job satisfaction and success of the whole workforce.