Mental Health Awareness Forum
Held at the Richmond City Hall, Thursday 12 th August 2004

A team of Richmond Rotarians, but especially Rotarian Jennie Purdie-Smith organized a well-attended forum, one of 354 forums Rotary is sponsoring around Australia, which will reach an estimated 32,000 people.

The sides of the hall were set up with stalls representing the many service organizations in the field. A packed house heard the nine speakers with great attention. A team from Melbourne Girls' College helped with the service for refreshments.

Despite the problems, all speakers pointed out that there were cures and treatments. But the key was awareness and the courage to seek treatment.

Themes common to all speakers:

  1. This is an illness suffered by one in five Australians
  2. It urgently needs to be upgraded in allocation of funding
  3. The repercussions are very often family break-up or suicide
  4. The impact on people around the ill person is disastrous
  5. There are many cures, and awareness of options is critical
  6. Rotary deserves a lot of credit for their initiative

Mayor of the City of Yarra: In our municipality of 70,000 there are a disproportionate number of people in public housing, ex-detention people and people with overwhelming pressures.

The Hon. Jeff Kennett:
Chairman of Beyond Blue the national depression initiative, spoke of the role of Beyond Blue of which he is a prominent spokesman. It is not in the clinic or treatment area but specializes in the training and sensitizing of GP's, de-stigmatising people suffering from a mental illness, and promoting research in this area.

Professor Graham Burrows: Department of Psychiatry, Austin Hospital. Pointed out that there are many forms of mental illness, and each type of individual needs their own unique treatment. He said there were links between depression and the onset of dementia. He vehemently highlighted the disastrous impact of drugs. A few drinks, stress and other issues had some effect, but drugs were guaranteed to lead to mental illness.

Professor Izzy Schweitzer: Melbourne Clinic, Richmond. Said it was not just the serious repercussions of the illness but the poor quality of life when all is bleak; there is no hope, and interest in life is lost. He said that two thirds do not seek treatment. Double the number of women as men appear to suffer depression, but a major problem is that men generally do not seek treatment.

Noel: Noel is an ex-sufferer. He is a survivor of three attempted suicides and had a disastrous family break-up. It took five years of recovery with hospitalization. He commented on the problem of self-pride when meeting people who know you have been diagnosed with a mental problem. He stated the onset of his serious period of mental illness was due to the practice of letting work totally dominate his life.

Trish: Has a son who suffered and in caring for him his family was wrecked. He lost all friends as they deserted him. A major drama was working through the government health program to get support

Gerard Reed: Gerard runs a center with a support line, and outlined many practical issues. For example people with mental illness, even an alarm clock bell sets a chain of thought which asks “What is that? Does it indicate a disaster? Every action brings an onset of panic and the inability to make a decision. For example not knowing whether to thank a waitress may result in a decision never to go out.

Dr Tarquin Oehr: Is a GP who says that GP's are at the coalface regarding mental illness. Recently GP's are being better trained to cope, Medibank rules have changed to allow longer consultations for mental problems.