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Highlighting the importance of lived experience

First-hand experience at a young age taught Dr Jo River how ‘lived experience’ can help drive vital research for marginalised communities – expertise Jo is now keen to share across the district. 

Jo has joined NSLHD as the Conjoint Associate Professor, Mental Health Drug and Alcohol (MHDA) Nursing, working to make a positive impact on MHDA consumer/carer well-being and experience of services. 

A social scientist with expertise in community development and participatory research in mental health, drug and alcohol and social determinants of health, Jo has also been internationally recognised for mental health research. 

Jo said the experience of growing up with a younger brother with an intellectual disability from childhood had motivated them to improve services for people with lived experience. 

“Seeing his life trajectory made me realise how people and services often see a disability as a deficit, rather than seeing the person and their capacities, strengths and the wisdom that comes from their lived experience,” they said. “However, it was these capacities and strengths that have supported my brother to live a meaningful life.

“My relationship with him inspired me to consider and connect with people’s lived experiences. To think about how we build research knowledge that draws on the expertise of consumers and carers, as well as the expertise of clinicians and academics.

“I really want to support clinicians and researchers to be able to recognise the value of people’s lives and experiences and how these can contribute to the development of research-informed services that help our most marginalised communities.” 

In 2021 Jo was awarded the Distilling Research Impact Award at Sydney’s University of Technology for participatory research initiating and supporting various co-designed research projects to improve health and wellbeing for consumers. 

“There are many amazing practitioners and researchers around the district who are trying to make positive changes through their work,” Jo said. “I have been warmly welcome from the district Executive, the MHDA team and everyone I have met so far. 
“It’s a privilege to be here.” 

Jo welcomes links with researchers keen to work in collaboration with people with lived experience using co-design and co-production research approaches. Jo can be emailed at for further discussion. 

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