Lecturer’s community spirit is the pride of SA

sharon-lawn-2-croppedGrowing up with a hearing impairment, Sharon Lawn was always a “watcher”.

“I was deaf as a small child so, instead of hearing people’s thoughts, I became very good at reading their expressions,” Associate Professor Lawn (pictured), a senior lecturer in chronic condition management at Flinders University, said.

“I was definitely the watcher in my family – I’ve always been able to pick up on people’s emotions fairly intuitively,” she said.

Making the most of her natural intuition and inquisitive mind, Associate Professor Lawn forged a career in mental health that has now been acknowledged with a South Australian Pride of Australia medal.

She received the Community Spirit award at a ceremony earlier this month for her contributions to the health sector, particularly a peer-supported hospital to home service which she developed to help people assimilate into the community following a mental illness.

The program, which ran from 2006 to 2008 through SA Mental Health Services, offered support to people in the critical first few weeks after hospitalisation, when suicide rates and relapse are generally high.

Associate Professor Lawn said the service saved the State Government more than $400,000 and more than 1000 bed days in its first year alone because people were able to be discharged from hospital earlier, or not need it in the first place.

“For a person with schizophrenia who had no family or friends to help them after a long hospital admission, they faced the prospect of going home to an empty house, a fridge with no food and a letterbox filled with bills,” Associate Professor Lawn said.

“But the peer supporters met them at the hospital and helped them deal with all those things when they got home so it made settling in that bit easier, plus it meant their hospital stays weren’t nearly as long as what they would have been without the home support.

“Nowadays the government has introduced new models of step up and step down care but, at the time, the peer service was innovative and unique.”

As a senior researcher and an executive member of Flinders Human Behaviour and Health Research Unit, based at the Margaret Tobin Centre, Associate Professor Lawn has a keen interest in mental health systems and care, chronic condition management, addictions and consumer and carer perspectives.

Since joining Flinders in 2004, her various roles have included consumer advocacy and staff mentorship, while she is also a PhD supervisor and course coordinator for a postgraduate program in chronic condition management.

Associate Professor Lawn said the Pride of Australia award was a great recognition of the many health workers striving to improve chronic care, nationally.

“In many ways I see it as an award for me and everyone else out there who is trying to improve the delivery of care in the primary and mental health sector.

“The human condition is what it’s all about – there’s no health without mental health.”

Associate Professor Lawn and South Australia’s 10 other Pride of Australia medallists are eligible for national honours in their respective medal categories, with the winners to be announced at a gala lunch in Sydney on October 27.

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