Debra has made a substantial contribution to the evolution of consumer advisory services, helping to shape it into the independent, professional and robust structure that it is today. She has transferred her 30 years of lived experience of recovery, voice hearing and the shared experiences of the consumers she has worked with, into a wealth of knowledge that is collaborative, interactive and empowering.

Debra is a prominent leader and mentor to others within the service-user movement in New Zealand and a well known educator, writer and advocate within national and international mental health services. She is the current Chairperson for ISPS New Zealand and a member of the executive committee for ISPS international; an organisation committed to the advancement of psychological and social approaches to psychosis. In 2016, Debra was the recipient of the Supreme award at the ACC attitude awards in recognition of her work in mental health.

Debra spent many years incarcerated in mental institutions around the country and found her greatest solace and recovery came from fellow ‘inmates’ who exhibited incalculable amounts of compassion and wisdom towards each other. She also witnessed the abuses and soul destroying practices used under the guise of ‘treatment’. Debra became well aware that people often found themselves in these places not from any form of madness, but rather the toxic results from exclusionary practices in the community. She believes:

“the need to belong is a basic human need and by creating societies that are accepting and welcoming we can only enhance the human existence.  To place people on the margins of society by classifying some as ‘mad’ is an indictment on our society as a whole. As an observer, to see certain groups of our community subjected to such disdain and vilification in a government sanctioned institutions, decreed to help people when they were in their most vulnerable state is the greatest injustice of all”.

From these experiences, Debra developed a strong sense of social justice and was confronted by the multiple levels of discrimination and inequity faced by people who experience mental distress both inside and outside of institutions. This led to a lifelong passion, working towards creating a society that embraces diversity and respects all members of society, using kindness as its guiding principle no matter what strata of society they came from. In doing so, Debra believes we would cultivate a world endowed and operated on the principles of ‘aroha’. She longs for a society that her grandchildren will live in wonderment and reap the rewards of our endeavours. She hopes they will see it as their duty, to enrich society for the next generation.

Today Debra continues to work with the Auckland District Health Board as a project manager on the psychological interventions for enduring mental illness project. In this unique and innovative position, Debra works in the clinical setting leading the development of psychological strategies for people who hear distressing voices; she is the first non-clinician to do so. Debra also has an academic position at The University of Auckland and is a regular presenter at international conferences and local events. You can also check out her TedX talk below!

Debra’s personal interests are in classic cars of which she has far too many, and animals of any kind! She is the doting servant of her cat Norma-Jeane who is particularly gifted in all areas of mischief making.

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