Good morning and welcome to this important conference.
I’d like to begin by acknowledging the Gadigal people of the Eora nation as the traditional custodians of this land.
I extend that respect to all First Nations People who are here with us today and pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging.
I would also like to acknowledge the individual and collective contributions of people with a lived and living experience of personality disorders and those who care for and about them.
I acknowledge President Giles Newton-Howes, and Professor Congress Chair Andrew Chanen, and distinguished guests and delegates from across Australia and the world.
Welcome to Sydney for the first in-person Congress since the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is only the second time the Congress has been held here in Australia, and I may be biased but Sydney an exceptional choice.
This city boasts a rich history of social activism, and a culture that not only embraces change, but actively encourages progress.
I am delighted that this Congress has embraced the Sydney spirit of change and progress.
As we move towards holistic care centred on the individual.
What a welcome change that will be for people living with personality disorders.
For their families and friends, and the professionals who care for them.
We have made progress in recent decades, from increasing awareness about mental ill health, improving access to care, and with a greater focus on human rights in mental health care.
Yet the struggle against stigma, especially around personality disorders, persists.
Society’s misconceptions, intensified by media misrepresentations, exacerbate this challenge.
Alongside the personal and social costs, personality disorders lead to an increased risk of self-harm and dying by suicide.
Through comprehensive, long-term care and support, we can help mitigate these risks.
Although we have made progress, there is much more work to be done.
The complexity and trauma-associated nature of personality disorders demands diverse treatment approaches and further research.
And I sincerely thank the Society for bringing the world’s leading minds together to continue this work and to drive progress.
My background as a mental health pharmacist in the public hospital system has given me insight and understanding of the importance of this work.
It is this experience that shaped my view that individuals must be at the heart of reforms in Australia’s mental health system.
So much so that two new independent peak bodies are being established.
One to elevate the voices of people with lived experience of mental ill‑health.
The other to represent their families, carers and kin.
Australia’s mental health landscape involves a range of stakeholders, from grassroots community groups to national organisations.
And while these individually and collectively undertake important work, we do need to formalise how government receives advice and counsel from people with lived experience.
It’s about those directly affected having a definitive role in shaping policies and programs.
This isn’t a new idea.
It’s the culmination of years of advocacy and a growing body of evidence highlighting the importance of a structure that allows people to directly influence the policies, programs and reforms that impact them.
The peak bodies themselves have also been co-designed, based on the diverse perspectives of consumers, family, carers and kin.
For locals in the audience particularly interested in progress, Australia’s Department of Health and Aged Care is working to translate this input into grant guidelines, before the next step of the establishment of each peak body.
Our Government is working towards meaningful, community-led reform to Australia’s mental health and suicide prevention systems.
We’re working to address drivers of distress across employment, financial security, education, housing, domestic and family violence and trauma.
All of these factors play a big role in people’s wellbeing.
This is particularly relevant for personality disorders, which have a strong association to trauma.
If we genuinely want to support people to reduce distress and prevent suicide, we need wraparound support and integrated services that combine health, social and community supports.
It also goes to the way we fund and subsidise services through Medicare and other Commonwealth channels.
We’re working to improve Better Access to make it more equitable.
Together with the Minister for Health, Mark Butler and I, an advisory group of 13 practitioners, system experts, lived experience and consumer advocates are exploring how we improve equity and access in the system.
The Better Access evaluation made it clear we need to find better ways to deliver a range of services across the mental health system – from low intensity support to comprehensive, multidisciplinary, wrap around care for people with complex and ongoing needs.
We know traditional services don’t always meet everyone’s needs or expectations.
To finish up today, I want to highlight an initiative in collaboration with SANE Australia.
We’ve recently extended a pilot program delivered by SANE that is showing real promise in reaching people who might not seek help.
This is common among individuals with personality disorders.
The pilot is testing the benefits of online mental health services.
Of a no-barriers approach available in your own home, at a time that suits you.
SANE Australia offers individual and group-based support, care coordination and service navigation through a multi-disciplinary team.
There is also a self-guided service that offers drop-in channels as well as resources and forums for information and support available 24/7.
Since May last year, SANE Australia has helped more than 85 people who identified as having a personality disorder as their primary mental health condition.
That’s progress. That’s promising.
It’s through initiatives like these and the collective efforts of everyone present today, that we can drive change and make progress.
To conclude, it is clear that to improve mental health care for people living with personality disorders hinges on collective effort, encompassing empathy, innovative thinking, and direct involvement from those with lived experiences.
To everyone here today, your dedication is so valuable to this transformative journey.
Thank you for your commitment, and please, enjoy the rest of the program.