As an occupational therapist for more than 30 years, Tania Skippen has witnessed time and again how supporting one person with mental health issues can positively impact a whole family.
Ms Skippen began her career in paediatrics, providing therapy to infants, children and young people including those who had endured abused and were in out-of-home care. Later, she developed programs for children, young people and families to improve their mental health, parenting, family relationships and independent living.
These experiences left Ms Skippen with a passion for kids, families and early intervention.
“We should not wait for illness and issues to progress before we offer help,” Ms Skippen says. “I have seen firsthand that when you work with children and young people and their families, including with women who are pregnant or new mothers, you not only help them as individuals but often have a ripple effect on their other family members too.”
After two decades working within public and private services in NSW, Queensland and Victoria, including setting up assertive outreach teams and developing training for clinicians new to child and youth mental health, Ms Skippen joined the NSW Ministry of Health in 2008. There, she pioneered a workforce development program for people working in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), including leading the development of the NSW CAMHS Competency Framework and related training initiatives. The Framework has since been used nationally and internationally and a range of training programs, podcasts, resources and a mental health workforce development website continues to support the sector today.
After completing postgraduate qualifications in health service planning and management, Ms Skippen rose through management roles within the NSW Ministry of Health. Under her leadership, teams created and rolled out programs critical to improving the mental health of children and young people in NSW, including the Getting on Track in Time (Got It!) program, Mums and Kids Matter, and Whole Family Teams.
Ms Skippen helped lead the development of a range of business cases which achieved significant additional funding for the NSW mental health sector and expansion of evidence-based interventions. Most recently, she advised the NSW Ministry of Health on its future mental health workforce needs, including steering the creation of the NSW Strategic Framework and Workforce Plan for Mental Health 2018-2022.
In 2018, Ms Skippen was appointed full time Deputy Commissioner at the Mental Health Commission of NSW and comes to the role with a deep commitment to holistic, person-centred care and “relational recovery”.
“I believe that most of us need connections to other people or things to help us get through our low periods, whether they are related to physical or mental health challenges, financial or social pressures, losses or disappointments and so on.
"Recovery takes individual courage and effort and our connections and relationships to family, friends, pets, community, country, culture, history, hope and other important aspects of our lives can support it.
"We all need belonging and connection. Isolation and loneliness are things our fellow human beings should not have to experience," says Ms Skippen.
“I also really believe in the importance of everyone having the opportunity to achieve a sense of mastery in their life, whether that is in their valued life role as a parent, friend, soccer player, artist, doctor, hairdresser, pet carer or something else.”
In her own life, Ms Skippen's roles include that of wife, mother, daughter, sister, worker, pottery maker and supporter of friends and family who live with mental health issues. She is also a Director of SMART Recovery Australia, a non-government organisation which helps people support each other to manage addictive behaviours for the improvement of individual and community health and wellbeing.
"My goal is that the things I do in life and work help people pursue the things they love, achieve their goals and live with hope. All of us deserve that," says Ms Skippen.