Weekly CEO Update from Mental Health Australia: Is it ‘mental health’ or ‘mental illness’

Image of three people reading and writing on a picnic table.

Each week this piece goes out to more than 5,000 people and I invariably receive welcome feedback. In fact this week I received a handwritten letter from a consumer passing on his thanks to the mental health workforce for the support he has received. Feedback can also include commentary on the issues raised, thanks for the message, and challenges and ideas to consider. It is a great privilege to be able to connect and prompt thinking and dialogue with so many on a weekly basis. In fact this week I received a handwritten letter from a consumer passing on his thanks to the mental health workforce for the support he has received. Feedback can also include commentary on the issues raised, thanks for the message, and challenges and ideas to consider. It is a great privilege to be able to connect and prompt thinking and dialogue with so many on a weekly basis.

And this week I will again expect feedback. I am grappling with language and its powerful and at times traumatic impact on lives. It is not only an issue in the mental health ecosystem, but many areas in our community. 

We know that both using and responding to the language used in the mental health ecosystem to describe people living with mental health issues, and those who seek to support, care, heal and treat warrants great care.  

This is because the language we use about each other can be experienced as alienating, stigmatising, de-humanising and cruel. Which history shows us has been the case with mental illness.

During the 1800s and early 1900s there were no treatments as we understand them now for people with mental illness, rather people were contained in asylums. Early last century the treatments applied were limited to early models of psychoanalysis, which suited only certain presentations, while people in an acute phase of illness were still contained with restraint, confinement, or sedation continued. 

Melbourne psychiatrist, John Cade discovered the effectiveness of the drug lithium to treat bipolar disorders in 1948, and this effectively commenced a focus of international research in relation to drug treatment for mental health conditions. In those days the legislation governing services in Victoria was called the Mental Hygiene Act (1943) which replaced the Lunacy Act (1923). 

Now more than 70 years later, this week we heard that Victorians can have their say on a new Mental Health and Wellbeing Act, which according to the Minister for Mental Health James Merlino will “be the cornerstone for the redesigned mental health and wellbeing system that Victorians deserve”. Disappointingly people have only been given three weeks to provide input, but nonetheless it is noteworthy that the reform is in full swing!

Noting that the language has shifted from mental illness to mental health and now includes wellbeing, I see this as the result of the pioneering leadership of consumers and carers in sharing their experiences and their vision of how things could be. 

There is further still to go, and a broader set of issues we are now faced with.

If we are to collaborate in Australia to co-design a new system then all the voices and perspectives matter. Those with lived experience, and those who lead and deliver support services, and clinical services in the community and in inpatient settings. 

If we are to broaden our vision to include wellbeing, prevention, early intervention and mental health, this cannot be at the cost of continuing to work for a human rights-based system of support and treatment for those whose lives are overwhelmed by mental illness.

It seems to me that what is important is listening and making sure that the way we are communicating with each other is inclusive and welcoming. Not alienating. 

For anyone. 

Have a good weekend.

Leanne Beagley

Guidance on community mental health services: Promoting person-centred and rights-based approaches

Excitingly this week the World Health Organisation launched Guidance on community mental health services: Promoting person-centred and rights-based approaches:

It provides a vision of mental health care with the highest standards of respect for human rights and gives hope for a better life to millions of people with mental health conditions and psychosocial disabilities, and their families, worldwide.

You will see that several leading Australians have provided advice and feedback on this work, and I came across it thanks to a tip-off from a key lived experience leader.

Queen’s Birthday Honours List

Mental Health Australia congratulates those recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for their contribution to the sector, including: Maree McCabe, Rob Gordon, Faye McMillan, Julie Stone, Tracy Westerman, Carol Berg, Julie Ann Dempsey, the late Ronald Fenton, Robert Llewellyn-Jones, Adam Lo, and Desley Miller. Queen’s Birthday 2021 Honours List


On Monday I will be attending an all-day online Forum “Not in my Workplace” and also meeting with Chris Giles, CEO of Kookaburra Kids.

On Tuesday we have a Mental Health Australia Board meeting. 

On Wednesday we are focused on Business Continuity Planning and on Thursday I have a National Peak Bodies Bushfire Recovery Coordination Forum.

On Friday I have a National Disability and Carers Alliance meeting.


Member Benefits, Jobs and Profiles

Communicate your news, job vacancies, or upcoming events to more than 5,000 people in the mental health ecosystem weekly.

Mental Health Australia members are invited to send us news, announcements, job vacancies, events or other notices for inclusion in the Weekly CEO Update newsletter. To do so, simply fill out this form by COB each Wednesday for your notice to appear in the newsletter the following Friday.

Job opportunity

A new and exciting clinical leadership role to support the extension and development of Orygen Digital’s Moderated Online Social Therapy (MOST) platform specifically supporting young people aged 12-14. Leading a multidisciplinary team, the Senior Clinician will have specific experience in clinical interventions for this age group, and experience with Victorian youth mental health services. Find more information here.

Member Profiles

Mental Health Carers Australia logo

Mental Health Carers Australia
Mental Health Carers Australia is the only national advocacy group solely concerned with the well-being and promotion of the needs of families and carers supporting someone with mental ill health. Our mission is to be the national voice for families and carers to enable the best possible life. We are achieving this by influencing systemic change in government policy and service provider practice to improve the family and carer experience of the mental health system.

ARC VIC logo, Anxiety Recovery Centre Victoria

Anxiety Recovery Centre Victoria
The Anxiety Recovery Centre Victoria (ARCVic) is a state-wide, specialist mental health organisation, providing support, recovery and educational services to people and families living with anxiety disorders. They aim to support and equip people with knowledge and skills that will build resilience and recovery and reduce the impact of anxiety disorders.


Embrace Multicultural Mental Health News

Framework for Mental Health in Multicultural Australia Workshops: UPDATED INFORMATION

Due to recent travel changes, we have needed to move our proposed face-to-face workshop in  Brisbane to an online webinar. This webinar will take place on Tuesday 22 June with the changed time of 9:30am-11:30am. We plan to hold future face-to-face workshops towards the latter half of the year. 

Zoom details for the webinar:
Meeting link:  https://us02web.zoom.us/j/9329429856
Meeting ID: 932 942 9856
Passcode: 123

COVID-19 vaccine information for multicultural audiences

The Department of Health’s stakeholder kit includes translated campaign key messages and links to campaign creative including videos, radio files, posters, social media content and images, and sample EDM/website content for multicultural audiences.

Embrace Australia logo (a rectangle with a light and dark purple cultural stripe pattern with "embrace" and stylised outline of the Australian continent in the lower right corner).


Mental Health News

Delivering a new Victorian Mental Health and Wellbeing Act

The Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System recommended the Government replace the current Mental Health Act 2014 with a new Mental Health and Wellbeing Act by mid-2022. The Victorian Government is seeking feedback on the development of the new Act through the Engage Victoria website. Responses can be provided until 4 July 2021.

Read more

New South Australian Mental Health Commissioner

The South Australian Government has appointed John Mannion as one of the Mental Health Commissioners for South Australia. Mr Mannion will replace Professor Sharon Lawn, who resigned in April 2021 due to personal commitments. 

Read more

Online GP training to support Australians with eating disorders

GPs will be provided with free online training to help them better identify and treat Australians with eating disorders as part of a $211,000 program delivered in partnership with the National Eating Disorders Collaboration (NEDC). The Eating Disorder Core Skills: eLearning for GPs will provide additional resources so that GPs are better equipped to identify and provide coordinated care to Australians experiencing an eating disorder.

Read more




Reimagining Healthcare - national survey

CHF is involved in conducting a national research project called “Reimagining healthcare in Australia: the journey from telehealth to 21st-century design,” with the Digital Health CRC, Deloitte Australia and Curtin University. The project aims to better understand consumer expectations of virtual healthcare. This research project includes several national consumer insights surveys. The first of these national surveys — about consumer preferences and virtual modes of health care delivery — is now open. 

Spiritual Care Responses to Mental Health Crisis and Recovery

Spiritual Health Association in partnership with Victorian Transcultural Mental Health service is hosting an online expert panel discussion presentation exploring spiritual care responses to mental health crisis and recovery. Spirituality is often overlooked in service provision for a variety of reasons, yet research consistently reveals that people want their spiritual needs addressed within the healthcare context. This presentation will be of interest to all mental health sector workers who have felt ill-equipped to support the holistic needs of their patients. The event is taking place on Tuesday 22 June, 10.30am - 12 noon (AEST), booking details and further information is available here.

MHV’s mental health symposium

Mental Health Victoria’s next Symposium, Preparing for reform: Co-production, culture change and leadership, will be held online on 29 June. The full list of speakers is available, as well as the draft program. Tickets are available to purchase here.

National Conversation on PTSD early bird tickets available

The second FearLess National Conversation on PTSD will bring together the full spectrum of the community who are impacted by, works with or cares for those living with PTSD. The program aims to provide professional development for health professionals, first responders and anyone involved in the delivery of community services. Early bird tickets are available until 30 June.

Leadership scholarships available for women in the health care sector

Women & Leadership Australia is offering professional development scholarships of $1000-$5000 to women across the health care sector. Women & Leadership Australia supports emerging, middle, and senior women leaders across all sectors and industries. Their leadership programs focus on applied learning with the latest in leadership theory and practice. Apply by 10 September or find out more here.

Codesign workshops for NDIS Psychosocial Frontline Workers

Mental Health Victoria (MHV), supported by the Department of Social Services, is leading a national project to grow workforce capability among NDIS providers of psychosocial supports in recovery-oriented practice. MHV will conduct a series of virtual events to hear from NDIS workers and providers. These workshops will contribute to our understanding of what good recovery-oriented practice looks like and how it can best be delivered in the NDIS. These workshops are for people associated with delivering psychosocial disability supports in the NDIS environment and take place in late June and throughout July. Find more information and register here.

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