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This will be a bitter sweet column, my very last after 28 years at the Fellowship. It has been a long road, but one that has been filled with great people, great accomplishments and great commitment.
It has been such a privilege to share this journey with so many whose only desire is to see the improvement of services to people with a mental illness and their families and carers. The passion of our Board Members, paid and voluntary staff members, supporters, and friends has been without parallel and has been inspiring. A commitment to the concept of recovery before it became fashionable.
When I arrived in 1991, I was so impressed that this organisation viewed advocacy as its core business. The founding parents had enshrined empowerment of consumers and carers in the original constitution drawn up in 1986, ensuring that half plus one of the Board had to be comprised of consumers and carers. It is testament to the many Board Members who have served the organisation that this remains the case today, despite becoming a Company Limited by Guarantee, a new Constitution and quite dramatic changes in Government policy, legislation and funding.
It has always been a source of pride to me that between 75-80% of our paid workers have lived experience of mental illness. We have 30 years of talking the talk, and more importantly, walking the walk.
Our growth has been exceptional; from one paid part-time worker in 1988 to now close to 300 in 2018, from limited services - a telephone support line, a few support groups and a bimonthly newsletter - to services now in Queensland, New South Wales, the ACT and Victoria. I recall dearly, John McAuliffe coming to me in April 2007 to show me the bank statement and we had $1m in the bank. He told me to pin this up on the wall as we would never see it again. We have, and to underscore that, Partners in Recovery South West Sydney has provided over $40m alone in the past six years. Our Carer Assist program, so ably managed by Dr Angela Milce, is now worth over $2m per annum.
The dollars are good; but what is more important is that they have allowed us to serve so many consumers and carers, to walk alongside them as they take control of their lives, to celebrate their successes with them, and to support them when things are not going so well. In 2017-18 that was well in excess of 12,000 individuals.
The big question, have things improved? Are consumers and carers better off than they were in 1985 when the Fellowship was founded? In many ways, yes they are. However, we are living through one of the most disrupted and chaotic times for our consumers and carers. Our advocacy is needed, I believe it is critical at this point in time.
I have one last ask of all of our members. We have both the New South Wales and federal elections coming up, one in March 2019, and the other at any time before May 2019. It is time to get active. It is time to let our elected representatives know that we are demanding better. It is time to write to them, to telephone them, to go to their electoral offices and meet face to face. It is time to tell our stories and say – this is just not good enough. We need a real and meaningful national plan, adequate funding, not the 5-7% we currently have, but the 12 -14% that the World Health Organisation identifies. We need the NDIS sorted out, so that the hundreds of thousands of people who have been getting a service will not be disadvantaged as only 64,000 receive an NDIS package. We need integrated services that operate from a recovery paradigm and bring hope - not hopelessness.
I am leaving One Door on the 21 December 2018, but I am not leaving the fight, there is still far too much to do.
Rob Ramjan AM | CEO
Rob Ramjan AM - CEO, One Door Mental Health