There are not many people who know the mental health sector like Melissa Urie. The bright and bubbly personality has worked in the industry for 14 years in a wide variety of mental health sectors including adult, child/ adolescent, neuropsychology and eating disorders. But growing up, she wasn't sure where she was going to land in her career, having gone from place to place in search of what would be a more permanent workplace in Western Health.
However, one thing she always knew was that she was going to be a unionist, having come from a family who is passionate about the union movement. Originally a member of the Australian Nursing Midwifery Foundation (ANMF) as a teenager, Urie simply joined the union because she knew it was part of her family history and something she felt compelled to do.
But after meeting HACSU representative and current State Secretary Paul Healey many years ago, she signed up to HACSU because she felt a specialist union would benefit her. Since then, her role at the union has evolved, becoming Senior Vice President of HACSU's Branch Committee of Management. She says this experience has helped her learn a lot more about the "inner workings of the union".
"With HACSU, you know who the people are on the other end of the phone," she says. "I feel it's really important to have that personal touch. HACSU's advice has always been really solid and really practical. It's one of those places where you know everything is run well because everyone is so ethically sound and everyone's very professional. At the same time, you can still have a laugh and joke around. It's a relaxed and professional environment."
Having the ability to relax and laugh is particularly important to Urie, who, like many, has had her moments of struggle in this eventful year.
"I am generally a very active person who travels a lot and that's all been stripped away," she says. "I've had moments where I've thought 'This is horrible'. Not having an end in sight is really hard. Going into the second lockdown in Melbourne was a lot harder than I thought I was going to be."
This time is often one where it's hard to think positively, especially about your career. But Urie reflects on one moment that makes her feel proud to continue to do the work she does.
"When I was working at Origin, there was this patient that was there for a couple of years and was in and out of the inpatient unit," Urie says. "Every time she saw me, she said 'I remember what you said the first time you met me.' I don't even remember what I said but it obviously made an impact on her and showed that I made a difference. That's something I think about and reflect on often that what I'm doing is having an impact on people."
Even though the mental health sector is struggling, Urie still believes that with the right advice, people can make a difference in the industry.
"Seek out someone who is passionate about their job to see what it's like," she says. "If you are currently working in general nursing, try and pick up patients on your ward that are having mental health issues. If you're a student, choose mental health as an elective in university. Make the most of your time when you're out there. Go and talk to the consumers and you'll realise that they're real people with real issues. Don't take on the job as if you're going to be solving everyone's problems but treat them with care and compassion and you'll be making an impact on their lives."