CEO Update - To advocate for mental health, is to care

Lachlan Searle

At its heart, ‘advocacy’ is the public support for… or recommendation of a particular cause or policy. The word itself, has Latin origins meaning ‘one called to aid’ and interestingly was once referred to as ‘advocare’.

Interesting, because it’s a one word synopsis for what we aim to do at Mental Health Australia. To ‘advocare’ publically for those who need our support, those experiencing mental illness, and to recommend a particular cause or policy to Government to improve the mental health of our community. To advocate is to advocare.

And that’s what we’ve continued to do this week, starting by welcoming three newly appointed Board members to the Mental Health Australia office for a full day induction. An intense and productive day, equipping our new Board members with all the information they need to hit the ground running at their first Board meeting in March. And continue their advocacy.

All caring advocates in their own right - Georgie Harmen, CEO of Beyondblue, Janne McMahon, Chair and Executive Officer of the Private Mental Health Consumer Carer Network, and Sam Refshauge, outgoing CEO of Batyr - bring expertise, networks, and a deep commitment to working alongside people living with mental illness to the task of guiding Mental Health Australia.

The task of taking the rich and diverse experiences of our Members, stakeholders and consumers and carers, and turning it into advice governments can use to improve public policy. The task of advocacy.

It was also the task for yesterday, when I attended a Symposium hosted by the Mental Health Community Coalition of the ACT examining the role of peak bodies in a rapidly changing environment.

The challenge of keeping consumers and carers at the centre of our considerations. The challenge of understanding and serving the diverse needs of our Members. The challenge of working on a huge agenda with limited resources. The challenge of influencing governments, while remaining a-political. The challenge of meeting the terms of our funding contracts, without surrendering to the whims of our funders. The challenge of determining whether to be ‘inside the tent’, and deeply involved in the policy discussion, or to be outside the tent criticising the failures of existing systems.

Participants at the Symposium discussed the particular challenges of doing all of this in the context of the NDIS – a much needed, much welcomed program that remains an implementation challenge of its own, and an integration challenge alongside the mental health system. A challenge we all embrace because we all care.
As if to herald the events and discussions of this week, I ended last week in discussion with Patrick McClure AO, Chair of the current ACNC review.

Amongst other things, the review will examine the role that charities like Mental Health Australia, and many of our Members, play in advocating for reform.

Some fear that this role is under threat, and that charities might be prohibited from their role in advocacy, and Patrick and I have agreed that Mental Health Australia will meet with the review to put our case forward.

Our case is simple: we advocare.

Warm regards.

Frank Quinlan
CEO, Mental Health Australia

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