As I write my last message this week I am thinking about our sector and what I want to say in farewell.
And it’s about engaging even when there is risk.
Have you jumped out of a plane, or taken on bungee jumping? Or perhaps extreme surfing or bushwalking? People prepare, they stand on the edge, take a deep breath - and then mostly they close their eyes and jump. I couldn’t do it! I would not be able to get over my own fear to step into the risk.
Maybe the risks you take are less physical but just as confronting - like stepping into an unfamiliar social setting or going to your first yoga class? Usually you survive though - right?
You only need 10 seconds of bravery, and you push through the barrier and step into the experience.
Some people take very big physical risks and would likely say that the experience is absolutely worth it.
Many of us take relationship, emotional risks and professional risks and would say the experience is worth it - but we also know that at times it is not. Friendships and relationships can be hurtful. Loving someone risks losing them, and pain or grief. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ‘jump in’.
As Australia’s mental health ecosystem, we now face some very real opportunities to engage to drive change, but we will need to ‘jump in’ to it despite the risks.
There is no formal framework for engagement with government so rather than wait for what might never happen we have to change our approach.
Individual advocates who are arguing for their community group, organisation, professional group, ‘diagnostic’ group, age group, or research group can in the end be perceived to be self-serving. That’s the role, though and ours at Mental Health Australia is advocating for system change.
We do not and could not (and should not) all agree on the way forward, despite often agreeing on what the problem is and being able to admire it together.
We are not an aligned group. Jumping into debate will risk open and public conflict.
But it will also create an opportunity for real dialogue about the real issues.
We do not have to agree with each other, and we should be real about where we disagree.
We should engage in the discussion, recognise the complexity, understand and work with the power imbalances, listen to hear.
It is no longer acceptable to disagree with each other behind closed doors in sub-groups of alignment and in advocacy to government, and then wait for government to wrangle the inherent ideological conflict and somehow decide on a way forward. (And then be criticised for it). It is no wonder that reform is so elusive.
As I leave Mental Health Australia, I encourage you to risk engaging openly with each other, even if it creates conflict and dissonance.
Australians living with mental ill health and distress and those who love and care for them are entitled to a better system and are entitled to expect that they will be heard as part of such an honest respectful open dialogue.
There is risk in ‘jumping in’ but it is critical in seeking some consensus and driving solutions from within the sector. Things are complex and the government needs broadly agreed solutions - not 400 different versions of “what you should do”.
I ‘jumped in’ to the Mental Health Australia role just as COVID hit the country.
And as with managing the pandemic as a community, I have experienced my role as CEO as a community effort - our Board, our team, our members, the broader provider network and stakeholders.
It has been a great privilege, I have learned so much, I am so appreciative, I will miss you and I wish you all the very very best.