Happy Anniversary: 45 Years of HelpingMinds
Our journey began on July 20, 1976 in a meeting room in Subiaco where around 70 people met to discuss caring for people living with a mental illness.
Ms Jean Meharry, the secretary of the Mental Health Association led the informal talks with discussions around fear, grief and guilt but above all “hope” for some relief.
Betty Rebakis attended that first meeting and recalls.
“About 70 interested people attended. If I remember, all bringing our fears, grief and guilt with us but hoping for some relief at last. Dr Hearn stood up, some of us had not met him before; he stood tall and straight and spoke clearly and directly with a statement I will never forget”.
“I want you all to know that there is nothing you have done, or haven’t done or should have done, that would have made any difference to your sick relative. It was all inevitable, so I want you all to get rid of any guilt feelings before we start.” Dr Hearn, Mental Health advocate.
She explained feeling immense relief.
“I as a mother heaved a sigh of relief, it was the kindest and most positive thing I’d heard for several years. My guilt was removed from that moment; it was the beginning of my learning experience in coping and coming to terms with mental illness.”
The meeting marked a positive turning point in support services for vulnerable mental health carers in Western Australia and A.R.A.F.M.I. was born.
Over the next three years, volunteers were trained to provide carer support in face-to-face meetings and over the phone. Funds were raised to employ our first part-time Social Worker, Pam Dolly.
She worked with the volunteers and provided valuable training in carer counselling.
“It was unusual to train volunteers, and the people really welcomed it. They would come in and look after the office. They would do face to face as well as telephone counselling. It constantly amazed me that these people were not only coping with their own situations but were willing to help others. The self-help that grew out of this offered much more than a Government department could ever afford.” Pam Dolly, A.R.A.F.M.I. Social Worker
Pam established contact with allied professionals to promote and expand our services raising our profile in the community.
The employment of our second Social Worker, Shirley Smith, enabled expansion into country areas. Albany was the first town to form a branch of A.R.A.F.M.I. followed by Geraldton, Bunbury and Esperance providing much needed support for country carers.
The expansion continued throughout the 80’s with our first full time member, Pat Carberry commencing in 1997. This saw a change in operations from an individual focus to a systems focus. Booklets were produced and information sessions were provided for Police Cadets and Nursing Students affording greater understanding of mental illness in the community. Members Alli Fi, Eline Smith, Tony Fowke and Brenda Cheeseman held talks at the police academy and facilitated breakthrough seminars in the Anderson Hall in Greylands Hospital.
Our staff grew from one to eight between 1992 – 1996, with the introduction of a school education programme, which was the start of our Youth Services.
The introduction of the Mental Health Act in 1996, saw a change in mental illness treatment from in-patients in hospitals, to the home. This shift resulted in an increased burden on at-home carers who began presenting with increased stress. The result was the inception of our Holiday Respite program in 1997, providing valuable time off for stressed-out carers.
Leone Shields, our first Executive Officer was employed around this time to develop strategic objectives which allowed the counsellors to focus on supporting the volunteers, rather than managing day-to-day operations.
As our services grew, the need for carer support was growing faster so the state and federal government were lobbied for funding. This resulted in the opening of our Midland and Fremantle offices in 2000 and Mandurah office in 2001.
Despite receiving much-needed funding in 2000, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Threats to mental health funding in 2003, saw us join forces with the WA Association for Mental Health to fight the cuts.
Our members assisted by sending in letters to the papers, meeting with politicians and appearing in the media. The result meant that vital funding to continue our services remained in place.
Our corporate staff continued to not only grow the organization but advocate for carers and their roles.
A.R.A.F.M.I. President, Sean Monahan was a driving force in recognising the importance of family members in the management and recovery of their loved ones. He explained.
“Carers have knowledge of their family member that no health professional, however good, can match and it is time that all health professionals realise that and start paying serious attention to the advice and information carers can give them.”
Sean was an integral part of a planning group responsible for the introduction of the WA Carers Recognition ACT in 2004.
The Act resulted in recognising the importance of carers in supporting those living with mental illness and their right to be consulted when helping to make decisions regarding the care of their family member.
By the early 2000s, A.R.A.F.M.I. had out-grown the original office space in Subiaco.
In 2004, A.R.A.F.M.I. and Carers WA purchased the Carer Centre in East Perth with a Lotterywest grant, which still houses HelpingMinds and Carers WA teams and our combined WA Carer Gateway operations.
Over the next decade, we expanded from supporting mental health carers, the family and friends of people living with mental health challenges only, to supporting children and youth, and people living with severe and longstanding mental illness through the NDIS. We also added mental education in schools and the community to our service delivery across the state.
In 2015, we changed our name from A.R.A.F.M.I. to HelpingMinds to reflect these changes.
Today we employ over 100 staff, provide over 63,000 individual support sessions and over 2,600 groups sessions across Perth Metro, Midwest, Gascoyne, Kimberley, Pilbara and the Northern Territory to our clients, each year.
HelpingMinds has come a long way since 1976, but one thing has stayed the same – we are always here to help.