Natasha (she/her) is an FYA Ylab Associate.
Twenty-three-year-old lived and living experience consultant Natasha Swingler uses her experience of severe and complex mental illness to create systems change.
As someone who had always felt comfortable sharing her story, Natasha worked within the mental health sector from 16 in a volunteer reimbursed capacity in the lived experience space.
Whilst studying Law and Psychology, and working in the hospitality industry, Natasha came across the application form YLab’s Front-End Redesign Project online.
“I always enjoyed sharing my lived experience, but the chance to pair that with systemic change and systems change was something that really did grab me.”
Describing the program as, a “world where co-design is a real concept and not a tokenistic way to engage people and tick a box”, Natasha worked as a YLab Associate for two different projects across two years.
“I guess I kind of use their tagline a lot, ‘putting young people at the heart of complex problems’ because I think that really does describe what they do. In terms of co design and employing young people who haven’t necessarily had the same chances to learn all of these skills in really unique, casual, and flexible ways to not only develop their skills, but contribute to real-world change and the systems that we most care about.”
Natasha’s first assignment with YLab was a collaboration with Orgyen, the world’s leading research and knowledge translation organisation focusing on mental ill-health in young people.
“I was helping with what was called the ‘Diversity sub-branch’ of Front-End Redesign. We co-designed a co-design process, called Friendship Bench.” Day-to-day, Natasha’s role involved “a lot of meetings, a lot of getting together in a small groups and planning things out, and coordinating with mental health professionals and social workers to get an idea of what might work and what might not work”.
While working as the Lived Youth Experience Consultant at Orygen, Natasha stepped into the Consumer Lived Experience Lead position, which she describes as “drawing on literally everything I’d done at YLab to plan, coordinate, codesign and supervise a number of team members that were brought on board for the co-design”.
“I work in what is called Orygen Specialist Programs, which is a tertiary mental health sub-division of Melbourne Health and North West Mental Health, which provides time limited, intensive care for young people with severe and complex mental illness.”
Part of Natasha’s role involves coordinating Orygen’s consumer advisory group, Platform; a team of up to seventy young people, with about twenty actively involved at any one point.
“I coordinate and supervise that team, provide them with supervision, with management, with training, skill development, so that they can hopefully not only get the best out of the team, and help the service improve itself, but they can also grow their own skills and hopefully step into the lived and living experience workforce if that’s their choice.”
After working with Orygen for the past fifteen months, Natasha is about to jump into the Lived Experience Lead position over at Royal Children’s Hospital, “again directly relying on project management, co-design, supervision skills” that were developed through the YLab program.
Reflecting on her time at YLab, Natasha describes it as a “total gamechanger”.
“It’s a steep learning curve, that’s for sure, but the skills it has left me with are quite profound,” she says.
“The team is there to support you and the things that you walk away from YLab with are just so important to future employment opportunities that you don’t recognise at the time.”