The 2024 Woodcock Lecture ‘Understand Trauma; Understand Mental Health’ was held last night at the Conversation Quarter in Melbourne and livestreamed online.

With 120 guests in attendance and a further 301 online, speakers Maggie Toko, Kerry Hawkins and Jane Nursey uncovered the topic of trauma and the mental health system’s response; expertly balancing individual lived experience with sector and clinical expertise to pose thought-leading insights that encouraged the audience to reflect on the current sector, and individual responses to trauma.

Understanding trauma allows us to shift to a more compassionate, holistic response that is not only achievable on an individual level, but what the system urgently needs to meaningfully change and heal.

Returning for a second year, Wurundjeri, Dja Dja Wurrung and Ngurai Illum Wurrung woman, Stacie Piper opened the evening with a powerful Welcome to Country, touching on the importance of trauma informed practice from a First Nations perspective.

Laura Collister, Wellways’ Chief Executive Officer then addressed the audience to acknowledge and recognise the courage and strength of the Lived Experience movement and took the opportunity to publicly advocate on behalf of Wellways, its participants and sector peers, by acknowledging the shared ‘significant disappointment’ felt by many present following the news the Victorian State Budget will not be funding many of the substantial reforms next year. Her words were met with widespread agreement in the room.

Laura Collister speaking at the lecture

Ms. Collister vowed to “continue our advocacy to ensuring the vision of the royal commission remains a priority of the Victorian Government” while acknowledging the invaluable contributions and stories told by those with lived experience to the Royal Commission.

Maggie Toko then took the stage to share her lived experience story of childhood trauma that detailed how at an early age Maggie’s experience of racism, grief, and unmet physical and emotional needs in the state system has changed her life. Maggie’s sincere and profound delivery, although heartbreaking, illuminated her unique recovery path and her life, now dedicated to being a voice for the voiceless.

“I realise that in my work life with people, with consumers, that I only need to do enough as a pebble, because collectively we will all make a rock.”
Maggie Toko

The panel listens to Maggie Toko sharing her story

Kerry Hawkin powerfully challenged the sector and the mental health system by calling out the failures in the current system, describing the structural violence that exists within it supports what is described as the ‘system’ story, the dominant narrative that the system is safe, it works well, it’s person-centered and family friendly; describing the narrative as so powerful, consumer survivors who challenge it are discredited and labelled disruptive.

Third speaker, Jane Nursey, brought a clinical perspective to the discussion on trauma. Jane described the frustration she felt in her early career noting the lack of understanding and acknowledgement of the ‘whole person,’ with the sector often failing to mention life history let alone past trauma. “By ignoring it, you’re not treating the person you are treating who is in front of you at the time.”

Jane stressed the importance of connection, trust, giving choice and providing safety when responding to and working with people who live with trauma.

There was a great turnout to the 2024 Woodcock Lecture

The common thread

There was one word that featured throughout each speakers' presentations when talking about trauma and how the system or a response can improve: ‘healing.’ Laura Collister posed this observation to the panel by asking why is it important to shift from a treatment system to a healing system?

The panel response was a thought-provoking balanced take on how we conceptualise and make meaning of words based on cultural and social understanding that left plenty of room for deeper reflection and broader conversations to follow.

Watch the full lecture ‘Understand Trauma; Understand Mental Health’