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Never too late: Debbie finds her passion in mental health

Training and skills case study

After 17 years in early childhood education, Debbie Birrell was ready for something new.  

Her journey back into study after sustaining an injury included completing her Diploma of Community Services, followed by her Diploma of Mental Health, at Chisholm Institute.    

Debbie Birrell case study

“When I was younger, learning was all about pen and paper,” Debbie recalls, having purchased her first laptop at the age of 52. “It was quite a jump to have to work with all of the technology.”  

Some extra sessions with a library tutor, and a helping hand from classmates, meant it wasn’t long before Debbie started getting the hang of things.  

Debbie’s perseverance paid off and she succeeded with her studies. She eventually landed a role as a mental health care worker at Primacy Care Australia, a Melbourne based NDIS mental health service provider. 

“It’s all about guiding the participants to reach their goals,” explains Debbie.

“I help people with complex mental health needs who are working towards recovery. This looks different for each individual.”

With the high demand for mental health workers across regional Victoria, Debbie would like to keep pursuing her path in the industry. In time, she hopes to move into management roles in the office.

While the job opportunities are positive, it’s the personal rewards she gets out of the work that keeps her passionate.

“I had one participant who couldn’t get out of bed 12 months ago, and now she can stand up and we do a little dance together,” beams Debbie.

“Knowing you can be there to help them achieve their goals is so rewarding, it’s just awesome. You feel so proud.” 

Debbie Birrell case study

Looking back on her time studying, Debbie is reminded of how far she has come. The path wasn’t always easy.

She had to juggle study responsibilities with being a full-time carer to her son who lives with autism, OCD, and an intellectual disability. There was also the feeling that age might be a hurdle to her career change.

Debbie had to learn to live with a physical disability after an accident, and needed support to get through her studies. Passing her course, learning new skills, and moving into a new career path was a great achievement.

But learning new skills was as much about the career as it was about building confidence in herself.

“I’ve learnt that one of the greatest things we have in life is control over our own destiny,” says Debbie.

She adds, “Working gives you hope and a purpose. Having made this career change at 52 has been a blessing, not a barrier.”

Debbie’s journey was also made possible through the support of the Skills and Jobs Centre at Chisholm Institute. She recalls how the team there helped craft her resume, and find the work placement that eventually led to a job.

“Without them, I would not be in the position that I’m in today.”

With her newfound purpose in mental health, Debbie hopes her story can show others that it's never too late to follow your passion.