Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland

Mental Health Awareness Week

I would like to associate myself with the remarks just made by Senator Siewert. It is an extraordinary program and needs to be congratulated and maintained. So, thank you very much.

Acting Deputy President Ludlam, you know that this week is Mental Health Awareness Week and tomorrow is Mental Health Awareness Day. Everyone in this place knows that just having a day with lots of celebrations, talks and media releases does not in itself raise community awareness or make changes in our community. Senator Siewert talked about the need to have local communities making their own decisions and owning the issues. This is certainly more important in mental health than just about any other area.

I want to talk about three separate events I was lucky enough to share in over the last couple of days. They were owned by the local communities, who developed and responded to their own needs to talk about the issues of mental health in their own areas. The first one was the inaugural-and I am very proud to be able to say that-Social Work Student Conference, which was entitled 'Let's chat about mental health', at James Cook University last week. This program came out of a decision made by a group of final year social work students that they needed to talk more about the issues of mental health in the community so that they could effectively take their very important role in the essential multidisciplinary team approach to mental health in our communities. I really want to congratulate the team, led by Louise Masters, and also the group of students, Catherine, Shinila, Simoane, Kathleen, Vicki, Alice, Michelle and Micaiah, Nickie and Erleice, who all worked together in their final year of study to ensure that at the local level we could find out more about the issues of mental health and then be able to respond-most effectively looking at the issue of stigma and isolation in the community. We had an awesome group of speakers who all focused around what we could do together.

I particularly want to acknowledge the contribution of one of the students, who had the terrible bravery to talk about her own experience. She lost a child several years ago to leukaemia and suffered extreme trauma from the loss. This was not just what we see as reasonable grieving. This was the terrible impact of mental illness, which caused trauma to her and her family over many years, almost to the extent of her losing custody of her other children. It also impacted on her family and her local community. With a great deal of help, not always in the appropriate ways for her, she was able to work with people around her to make decisions about how she would own her own health, get the support she needed and make decisions about her future, in this case looking at adult study and working through her illness. Now, she will be able to bring her skills into play in working with other people to look at where they can find support.

There was a range of other speakers, but I will not go into all of them, although I will on future occasions. I want to congratulate these students and celebrate here the role of social workers, sometimes forgotten, in their extraordinary job of bringing people together, creating networks and making sure that people have voices in their discussions-most importantly in this case-around issues of mental health.

So, first we had the first mental health conference for social workers in Townsville. On the next day I came back to Brisbane and took part in the second annual Walk for Awareness. It dealt with the issue of mental health and, in particular, the issue of suicide. This walk is auspiced by the Mental Awareness Foundation. This is a local foundation formed by people who have suffered the loss of friends or family by suicide. I want to congratulate the Mental Awareness Foundation, because they did not sit back and wait for somebody else to do it. They saw a need and they wanted to work together-and I keep stressing that we consistently hear the words 'working together'-to ensure that people know more about what causes suicide, the stresses and, again, the issue of isolation.

They decided to have this walk very close to an iconic part of Brisbane, the Story Bridge. People in Queensland, and certainly those in Brisbane, all know the bridge. However, the bridge has a tragic element. Almost from the day it was constructed, the bridge has been the scene of numerous suicides. We know this and as a community we are speaking out to say that we need to make sure that some construction is done on this black spot so that people are not able to leap off the bridge. We have indications from other cities that face the same issue of ensuring that there is no capacity to jump off a bridge to end your life.

We have had a number of awful-in the true sense of the word-issues in Brisbane recently, but we know that almost every week there is a loss in this area. So they chose to have this walk around the Story Bridge to raise awareness of the general issues but, in particular, to raise awareness of the need to protect our bridge and to protect our community. The local city councillor Helen Abrahams, my friend, is arranging an e-petition so we can work together to make sure people know that there is a need to make this change and that we have the power to do so.

The funds that came out of this Walk for Awareness went to two wonderful organisations that we all know in this place: the GROW Foundation, which has been around for 50 years, looking at the issues of mental health in community and in families, and also a particular favourite of mine, the Mates in Construction project, which I have talked about in this place before. Mates in Construction is funded through the building industry and through the unions. With the support of industry partners, they are able to serve so many people across Queensland, and now they have expanded their services interstate. They have received considerable federal funding because of the quality of their services. Recently they have lost state funding, but they will be able to move beyond that in terms of identifying need, feeding into education and awareness and, again, looking at the issues in the local community of stigma and isolation.

So, congratulations to the people from the Mental Awareness Foundation and all the walkers who gathered on the hottest day we have had so far this summer to walk together to show Brisbane that we are concerned about suicide. Again, we want to stop the opportunity for people to end their lives through suicide from the Story Bridge, and we need to keep that campaign strong and maintain that rage at our local level.

The third event-again, local community looking at the issues of mental health together. We have gone from the first one to the second one, and now this is the 10th Breaking Free concert in Toowoomba, which is my home town. I have been lucky enough to visit there many times on Breaking Free Day, which was developed 10 years ago to make sure people in the local community of Toowoomba understand that people with mental illness are citizens-members of the community like everybody else-and should not be isolated or labelled or unable to feel welcome and safe in the community. The Breaking Free concert pulls people together to send this message. I want to congratulate Michael Burge, the organiser of this event over the last 10 years. There was spontaneous support for Michael on the day-from people working in the field, from consumers, from family members-to thank him for the work he has done to ensure that this event happens. It is a fun day, because we need to celebrate our wellness and ensure that we share this experience and give the message to people that they are safe and welcome in the community.

One of the things that pulled all of these things together was joy and community activity. At both the inaugural Social Work Student Conference and the Breaking Free concert, one of the key aspects was music. I will talk again about music in the community, but first I want to congratulate the Seniors Creating Change group in Townsville. This group, made up of volunteers, has gathered together to highlight the issues of senior and elder abuse and also to ensure that, once again, people are not labelled and isolated in the community. I want to mention-and I know you would accept this, Madam Acting Deputy President Pratt-that they take well-known songs and put their own words together. One of the songs they were singing was 'I am senior, hear me roar'. It is pretty confronting, when I grew up singing 'I am woman, hear me roar', that now I have to identify with 'I am senior, hear me roar'! But now you can roar in both ways: as senior and as woman! So congratulations to them, and I will be talking about them again later.

I also want to commend the wonderful Rainbow Choir in Toowoomba, gathered together by people who have a range of disabilities but want to sing and stand proud. I particularly want to congratulate the people who work together on that choir. They make a real difference, and they join together to make us all strong-but, in particular, in this Mental Health Awareness Week, to make us aware of genuine mental health: our rights, our pride. We are not talking about illness; we are talking about health.