Mental Health Families and Friends Tasmania
Mental Health Carers began in Launceston in 1984 as Arafmi (The Association for the Friends and Relatives of the Mentally Ill).
The prime mover for the fledgling group was Ethnee Shields, who gathered a loyal and committed group of carers around her, providing carers with opportunity for gaining information, sharing their stories and meeting socially together.
Funds for the newly constituted group were provided by the State Government and a centre for meeting and accommodation found in Howick Street. Details of activities are scarce but raising awareness to the importance of carers in supporting those with mental health issues was underway.
This same awareness began in Hobart, again through dedicated individuals. Anne Bevan ran support workshops, provided information to carers, obtained funds, and drew a small group of carers around her who gradually shared the workload. Arafmi Hobart was auspiced by the Mental Health Council of Tasmania.
The minutes of the July 13th, 2000 meeting attended by three people, noted that the then Premier, Jim Bacon was patron and planning a visit to the Campbell Street office later in the year. The same minutes make mention of the use of volunteers and ways of raising further funds.
There was a sense of the importance of the task of caring for carers and frustration at the lack of resources to meet the demand, but a determination to meet the challenges that lie ahead.
Growth and Change 2000 – 2007
The minutes of the February 26th, 2003 Arafmi Hobart meeting mention the intention to apply for funding for a three day a week staff position, to help meet the growing demand for services.
Short term funding was obtained from time to time over this period, however this was not sufficient to maintain quality services that required consistent and adequate funding to meet increased demand. Hence a more professional service to represent and support carers became a growing priority during this period.
It was clear that to attract essential Government funds a radical shift had to be made. Sporadic overtures regarding the possibility of the northern and southern groups working together had been made over time, but it was not until 2006 that real progress was made.
Encouraged by Mental Health Services stating that funding would be available for only one Arafmi in the future, joint planning meetings were held, culminating in official amalgamation at the following year’s Annual General Meeting on August 25th. 2007.
The President of the first state wide Arafmi Committee was Gary Kelly, with Kerry Willis as Senior Vice President, Kate Shipway as Vice President, Leanne Carlon Secretary, Karen Frost Treasurer, Anne Cordts Public Officer, and Anne Bevan and Gail Wells Committee members.
Every attempt was made to balance north and south interests, keeping in place two regional committees, and representatives from both the north and south holding official positions.
Consolidation and Change 2007 – 2016
A planning workshop was held in September of 2007 to consolidate planning and finances. Strategic Priorities for the three years 2007 – 2009 include:
- Consolidating the organisation.
- Enhancing Arafmi’s role as the specialist information and support service for carers and families.
- Further building Arafmi’s effectiveness as an advocate for the needs of carers and families.
- Ensuring financial viability.
- Increasing the public profile
In working to these priorities, better governance and changes to early thinking on the most effective structure and processes led to two part time regional staff becoming one fulltime staff member with administrative and project support.
Policies and processes were developed, along with constitutional changes and a streamlined budgeting system. Additional transition funds were obtained from Mental Health Services as well as funding from Mental Health Australia for a Capacity Development Project leading to the development of a Business Plan.
Strengthening of the financial and administrative base was seen as essential, if Arafmi was to carry out its responsibility as the lead mental health carer body in the state.
A management committee became a Board of Management, and in 2012 Arafmi Tasmania became Mental Health Carers Tasmania.
Along the way the organisation was obliged to locate its head office in Hobart. This was in order to fully establish itself in the mental health community as not only operating in a professional manner, but having a sustainable, long term future serving all areas of the state.
While these structural and administrative changes were occurring, hard working volunteers were providing support services in the form of a variety of support groups, projects such as Schizophrenia Awareness Week, Wellness and Resilience Workshops Roads to Recovery to name a few.
As with all organisations personnel came in and out of a changing Board of Management. Gary Kelly handed over as President to Kate Shipway at the 2009 AGM, Kate doing likewise in 2016 to Chris Batt.
Other Board members and staff have served Mental Health Carers Tasmania well over the past nearly 10 years since north/south amalgamation; too many to mention in a brief history, but all have played a vital part in ensuring the value and important contribution carers make to mental health in Tasmania.
A new name 2019
In September 2019 Mental Health Carers Tasmania became Mental Health Families and Friends Tasmania. The formal adoption followed extensive consultation with people who support those with mental illness, providers and Government. A primary driver for change came directly from the widely expressed view that the term “carer” did not adequately reflect the relational aspects between people with mental illness and their supporters.
So after lengthy and extensive consultation, from ‘Mental Health Carers Tasmania’ to ‘Mental Health Families and Friends Tasmania’. This consultation highlighted two key drivers for change. The first was the need to better capture the unique lived experience of mental health families and friends. The second came directly from the widely expressed view that the term ‘carer’ did not adequately reflect the relational aspects of the support person role. Respondents perceived themselves as kin or a friend, colleague or neighbour rather than as a ‘carer’ and supported someone experiencing mental ill health and/or drug use because of this relationship.
Increased capacity in 2021
Then at the start of 2021, MHFFTas commenced supporting alcohol and drug (AOD) families and friends, as well as mental health families and friends. This came as a response to the fact that many of the families and friends we engage with are supporting someone with co-occurring conditions of mental ill health and drug use.