SEVERE depression took Leisa Hoffmann by surprise.
"One day, in the middle of my shift - bang - I collapsed on the floor and I couldn't get up," she said.
A decade of depression followed and treatments, including 60 electro-convulsive shocks and countless medications, did not help.
The illness eventually led to the breakdown of Ms Hoffmann's marriage.
"My depression was dragging him under," she said
But a program called The Lived Experience Project has helped Ms Hoffmann get back on top.
The program has trained people with mental illnesses to become workers in the mental health sector.
"We have a high incidence of unemployment here on the far North Coast and we also have a high incidence of mental illness," The Lived Experience Project manager Gabrielle Le Bon said at a media conference in Lismore yesterday.
"What we also have is a shortage of skills in the mental health sector. So this project was designed to perfectly fill that gap."
The conference aimed to inform people about the program's benefits and the federal member for Page, Janelle Saffin, and parliamentary secretary for disabilities, Jan McLucas, attended. Senator McLucas took the chance to promote the Federal Government's National Disability Insurance Scheme, which would assist people affected by mental illness.
The Federal Government collaborated with the Northern Rivers Social Development Council and other organisations to create The Lived Experience Project.
The project's 29 participants have completed two months of training and will eventually receive a Certificate 4 in Community Services.
"I've grown so much with the course," Ms Hoffmann said.
"Hopefully I will be able to get employment out there and fulfil my goal of helping and supporting people with a mental illness because they need to be empowered and know there's something more out there."
The Northern Rivers has been the first region to trial the project, but Ms Le Bon said it had the potential to expand nationally.
MP Saffin agreed and said "the rest of the country needs this program".
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