The Western Australian Association for Mental Health (WAAMH) was founded in 1960 by Mrs Robyn Plaistowe MBE and incorporated in 1966.
WAAMH started as an umbrella organisation for church and charitable bodies providing voluntary services for mental hospitals and other institutions.
Among our founding members were the Combined Churches Group (the Combined Hospital Voluntary Services), the Catholic Women's Association and the Red Cross.
Our aims at this time were to provide voluntary assistance for the welfare of mentally ill persons and their dependents, promote mental health and educate the public on mental health matters.
Over the next 20 years, we began:
- The organisation of Mental Health Week, which started in 1967 and is now an annual event
- Organising public forums
- An awards program for students excelling in mental health studies
- Publishing pamphlets and educational materials
- Board of official visitors memberships
- Advocacy on behalf of individuals
- Became the parent body for a number of non-government service bodies including Arafmi (now Helping Minds), Alzheimers Association, Mind and the June O'Conner Centre (a drop in centre for people who live with a mental health issue). In time, these organisations became independent, incorporated, non-government agencies.
The Association also set up several projects for people living with mental health issues. These included:
- The Housecraft Training Centre at Claremont Hospital for people living with mental illness in hospital to conduct house duties to aid with their recovery.
- The '311 Club' at 311 Hay St, Subiaco for people living with a mental illness who wanted to have a fuller social life.
- The 'Crafters' and the MHA Shop for the sale of articles made by people living with mental illness.
- The 'Young Approach Club' for young people living with a mental illness or who were lonely.
By 1980 these projects had all vanished because of the lack of funding and support.
During the 1980s, our focus turned to education, advocacy, lobbying and fundraising. An attempt was made to establish a Mental Health Centre staffed by an education officer, and establish a State Alliance of Mental Health Services but to no avail. Deep concerns prevailed about the lack of support for mental health services, particularly as people began moving out of psychiatric institutions to live in the community during this decade. Fear and prejudice about mental illness was high in a community that lacked the necessary support services to successfully move people out of psychiatric institutions.
Despite the difficulties facing WAAMH, resources were used to the best advantage.
- In 1983, we were involved in drafting a new Mental Health Act.
- In 1984, we organised a national workshop for the International Year of the Child.
- In 1986, we petitioned the Health Minister for facilities for involuntary patients at the Sir Charlie Gairdner Hospital
- In 1989, we produced a policy statement on the need to establish a forensic unit at Graylands.
Our association gained recognition locally, nationally and internationally during the 1990s, when executives of WAAMH began meeting with the Health Department on a regular basis. We organised a national conference on mental health in 1992 and undertook a joint project about depression in the WA community in 1993.
The Burdekin Report (1993) and the Western Australian Mental Health Task Force (set up by Graham Kierath, then Minister for Health) promoted and increased awareness about the need for community support for people with a mental illness. The Health Department began establishing community based Living Skills Centres. Community support was also provided from the non-government sector through our member agencies, including the Schizophrenia Fellowship and Lorikeet Clubhouse. There was a growing appreciation that non-government agencies working alongside public mental health services had an important contribution to make in the area of mental health.
Against the backdrop of this new climate, constituent members of WAAMH became aware a peak body was needed to effectively aggregate and articulate the needs and aspirations of non-government agencies and, more particularly, of those agencies' consumer and carer members.
After a year of planning, the Western Australian Association for Mental Health was reorganised as a confederation of non-government organisations with a council of delegates from member bodies. This in turn elected a board of management and a four member executive.
A new board was elected and took office in March 1996 leading the peak body for the community managed mental health sector in WA under David Kernohan for the first 18 months. Since this time, Sheryl Carmody of Ruah Inreach and Keith Wilson (former Minister for Health) have both provided a leadership role.
Today, we are recognised state-wide and nationally as the peak body for the non-governmental (community-managed) mental health sector in Western Australia.
In the 21st century, the association evolved to encompass a growing number and variety of member organisations. We have broadened our community aims during the past decade and strengthened our objectives with the benefit of modern technology.
Our membership comprises more than 100 mental health organisations and individuals. Our member organisations support people with mental health issues and their families to lead fulfilling and contributing lives.
We are pleased to see more engagement from the corporate sector and schools as mental health and wellbeing becomes increasingly recognised as an important part of maintaining a positive and balanced lifestyle.
2016 - Celebrating 50 years
In 2016, WAAMH celebrated 50 years of building fulfilling, contributing lives through the development, promotion and representation of the community mental health sector in Western Australia. WAAMH's local community, media and public profile has increased considerably in recent years, and in 2016, we held WA's inaugural Mental Health Conference and marked our 50-year milestone of dedication to the community mental health sector.
WAAMH has achieved a great deal in its advocacy work to date but there is still much work to be done to improve WA's public policy and laws to support the human rights of people with mental illness. WAAMH has increased its mental health training attendance to around 3,100 participants a year and continues to broaden its course catalogue to meet growing demand. Our mental health promotion work peaked in 2017, influencing and reaching thousands of Western Australians through Mental Health Week, strategic partnerships, major conferences and ramping up our online engagement.