The Wellways advocacy team has recently been on the road, reaching out to communities with forums in the ACT, regional Victoria and Tasmania, and bringing together people who want community inclusion and improved services.

Forums in Melbourne, Canberra, Shepparton, Hobart, Launceston and Burnie have attracted strong numbers, with a mix of community members, service providers and local civic organisations. Among attendees, there has been a significant representation of lived experience perspectives of mental health issues.

At the forums, which are ongoing throughout 2017, participants are asked to identify the biggest issues affecting people living with mental illness, as well as their families and communities. They are also encouraged to form action groups and develop targeted responses to particular issues.

Emerging themes, common to each of the forums, include service and system issues, stigma and discrimination, isolation and exclusion, and family/carer services. 

Cassy Nunan, Consumer Advocacy and Leadership Consultant, who co-facilitates the advocacy forums with Carer Advocacy and Leadership Consultant Rachael Lovelock, has been delighted by the community response to the forums, especially the spirit of genuine collaboration, engagement with one another and passion for change. Forum participants are invited to join as Wellways Advocacy members, to continue to be informed and involved.

“We are getting a grassroots perspective on the issues, and we feel a real part of the groundswell for change,” she says. 

“We see people really becoming active in the advocacy space, joining in on discussions as a member of the community, and being willing to touch upon topics in the ‘personal realm’.”

With many mental health service system issues voiced by forum participants, the team is becoming well-informed about the specifics of system weaknesses, failures and strengths. The advocacy team compiles all information produced at the forums, formulates the key themes and feeds this information back to attendees. The data gathered is used to inform ‘calls to action’ for government.

Advocacy is an important part of what we do at Wellways, because people experiencing mental health challenges, and their families, friends and carers, face multiple forms of disadvantage and human rights deprivations.