Mind Australia Limited (Mind) is one of the country’s leading community-managed specialist mental health service providers. In 2013, Mind initiated the first recovery college in Australia. The aim was to demonstrate how recovery orientation of mental health services could be advanced through a new education-based approach that would be complementary to treatment and community-based support services.
Originating in the USA and UK, the recovery college model expands the range of options for supporting individual recovery through the use of an educational and learning approach. It provides a complementary alternative to existing case management approaches. At the same time it is a practical vehicle for cooperation between services and the broader community.
The college’s co-production approach means people with personal experience of mental ill-health are involved in the design and delivery of courses, operational running of the college, and participation in college activities. Students talk about how the Mind Recovery College is different and ‘real’.
The Mind Recovery College quickly moved from start-up project to a multi-campus college operating across two states. Most satisfying was that students reported significant value from the courses, and also the college was recognised by two prestigious national awards for excellence.
Aims & Objectives
This project aimed to:
- expand the support options for people’s mental health recovery
- provide rich and impactful educational experiences to hundreds of people impacted by mental ill-health
- build Mind’s capabilities and capacity in co-production
- provide a demonstration of an innovative approach to recovery
- generate new knowledge and practice that could be used to enrich and expand the practice of our existing services and supports (and that of other organisations), and
- establish a respected entity that continues to model innovation in welcoming learners and engaging them in their own growth and development.
The Mind Board endorsed the college concept in 2013, giving the project high level support.
A Project Lead and Co-production Lead were employed, who between them had project management, education and mental health sector experience, including being a client/carer.
Two pilot sites were identified leveraging existing Mind service locations with training facilities. In the first four months, service users, carers and staff were presented with the concept and asked: What would you be interested to learn? What would make it possible for you to come? Is there anything you would like to teach?
Using this input, course topics were developed and local working groups of students and staff were established to guide the development of the college and contribute in practical ways.
Two Learning and Development Consultants with lived experience of mental health recovery were appointed. Operating guidelines were documented, and 50 courses (26 topics) were co-produced and delivered.
The Mind Recovery College achieved its goals as detailed in Aims and Objectives.
In addition, the college has built a range of productive partnerships, expanded faster than expected and received a National Disability Award for Excellence in Choice and Control in Service Delivery (2015).
The Melbourne University evaluation found that overall, students reported that the Mind Recovery College had a resoundingly positive impact on many aspects of their lives. Most importantly, this included access to learning and recovery opportunities that had been unavailable to them in other settings, such as enhanced skills and employment.
Success factors include:
- Collaborative culture fostering contribution across roles, utilising people’s different skills and experiences
- Sound project management methodology
- Supportive and enabling governance structures
- Innovation and agility in design; quality assurance; and feedback loops
- The majority of college staff having lived experience of mental distress or as carers/family
- A vibrant, welcoming and quality culture and environment.
This project succeeded in part because the Mind executive and board members were genuinely committed to it – allowing space and encouragement for experimentation.
There was good validity to the concept, making it easy to engage a wide range of people in shaping the college. This collaborative approach was fundamental to success.
The project team also balanced the need for planning with a strong belief that actually trying things out is the best and most useful way to develop services. This means trying things early, and a willingness to learn from the experience to inform the next step.
Dianne Hardy, Director Mind Recovery College
This project clearly demonstrated that a great deal can be achieved when 'users of services' contribute to the design and delivery of those services. The Recovery College was a 'radical' experiment in this sense, putting individuals with lived-experience of mental distress at the center of the project both as users and as support staff.
Dr Alberto Furlan, Senior Program Manager