Thursday, March 29th, 2012
Having already challenged the Australian mental health system by introducing the nation’s first Minister for Mental Health, and by appointing the country’s first non-psychiatric trained Mental Health Commissioner, Western Australia will host the Asia Pacific Conference for Mental Health ( on 11-13 June 2012, which will pose further challenges to mental health professionals.

Hosted by mental health organisation Richmond Fellowship of Western Australia (RFWA) (, which has been instrumental in driving a shift of focus within Western Australia, the conference brings together some of the world’s most respected and outspoken mental health professionals.

Mr Joe Calleja, RFWA Chief Executive Officer, says the changes proposed in the controversial United States’mental health diagnostic guide, the DSM-5 ( version, which is widely considered the world’s bible for psychiatry, makes the pending conference the most critical in decades.

“In the wake of Western Australia’s efforts to become more ‘person-centric’ rather than ‘psychiatry-centric’ in the treatment of mental health clients, the proposed changes for the DSM5 have been widely criticized for being too pharmaceutically dependent and could undermine everything the ‘Recovery’ approach has achieved both in this State and worldwide,” he said.

Amongst the international speakers presenting at the conference is Dr Allen Francis, Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at Duke University (USA). While Dr Francis had been instrumental in championing the development of the DSM4, he is highly critical of the DSM5 proposals that he says ‘promotes easy diagnosis and medication of psychiatric issues’, such as Attention Deficit Disorder, and which could bring thousands of children and young people into inappropriate medication treatments .

Joining Dr Francis is Professor Patrick McGorry from University of Melbourne. Australian of the Year in 2010, Prof. McGorry is Director of Orygen Youth Health and director of headspace (the National Youth Mental Health Foundation of Australia) ( and Headstrong (the National Youth Mental Health Foundation of Ireland -, two organisations that provide non-medical referral to mental health services.

“The DSM5 proposes to introduce a number of youth related issues and aligns them with medical treatment, including the diagnosis for internet usage as a mental health issue, which could merely be a social shift in our youth, rather than be a sign of mental illness” Mr Calleja said.

The overriding message we hope for the conference is that we begin to treat people as people rather than as a diagnosis. This means we need to look at medication as being part of the person’s whole recovery journey not the only element in their recovery. Reactive medical treatment of mental health issues is not a person centred and long-term solution focused. Narrowing a response down to medication and ignoring other aspects of a person’s life may represent an efficient solution in the short term, however, the personal cost and long-term financial burden on the State and the country by keeping people in the system is extensive in terms of hospital beds and public support systems,” Mr Calleja said.

While Western Australia is certainly heading in the right direction in this regard, we as a nation and the Australian mental health industry have a long way to go.”

RFWA provides mental health accommodation and support services based on the ‘Recovery’ focus, which takes a person-centred and outcome oriented approach to the treatment of mental health.

“In other words we believe recovery from mental illness is possible and have had great success by recognising the trauma associated with mental health issue and guiding people back into the community and out of the system,” Mr Calleja continues.

“We are not saying there is no place for drugs or psychiatry. We are simply calling for a shift in the treatment and attitudes of mental health in this country and in mainstream psychiatry. Our specialists need to recognise the merits of a person-centred approach and alter the relationship they have with their clients because many consumers and their family supports feel marginalised or not heard.”

Issues being addressed at the conference include the criminal justice system, the emerging generation, wellness and humanising the treatment of mental health.


Dr Normal Swan, host of The Health Report on ABC Radio National, and Tonic on ABC Television, is Master of Ceremonies. Other key speakers include:

Steven J. Onken Ph.D. (Hawaii), whose research focuses on innovative ways to capture an emerging evidence base for consumer, indigenous and cultural approaches to mental health wellbeing and recovery.

Mark Brown (UK); a social entrepreneur and director social enterprise Social Spider CIC. Mark has developed One in Four magazine written by people with mental health difficulties for people with mental health difficulties, drawing on his own experiences.

Gregor Henderson (UK) is a Government advisor and recently assisted the Mental Health Commission of Western Australia to develop a framework for quality assurance across the mental health system.

Richard Warner (UK), a British psychiatrist, anthropologist and a professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado who spent nearly 30 years developing an innovative and internationally recognised system of community psychiatric care.

Professor Helen Milroy (AUS); a descendant of the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia, whose work and research interests include holistic medicine, child mental health, recovery from trauma and grief, application of Indigenous knowledge, Indigenous health curriculum development, implementation and evaluation, Aboriginal health and mental health, and developing and supporting the Aboriginal medical workforce.

Gail A Hornstein (USA), a Professor of Psychology at Mount Holyoke College (Massachusetts, USA) who, over the last year, has helped train close to 100 new facilitators for Hearing Voices Network groups around the USA.

Dr. Jock McLaren (AUS), author of "Humanizing Madness: Psychiatry and the Cognitive Neurosciences". He is calling for his profession to change its "theory of mind" to stop doctors from misdiagnosing patients and oversubscribing drugs.

Other speakers include The Hon Wayne Martin, Chief Justice of Western Australia, Mental Health Commissioner, Eddie Bartnik, Commissioner for Children and Young People, Michelle Scott, and the conference brings together a range of professional and consumers with direct experience with the mental health system.

Full registration details available here {Link to}.


Contact Profile

Richmond Fellowship of Western Australia

Richmond Fellowship of Western Australia (RFWA) is host to the 2012 ASPAC Conference on Mental Health.

RFWA is a non-Government organisation at the forefront in providing innovative and person-centered environments for recovery.

Well known for programs that integrate the key elements of recovery with accommodation and support services, such as recreational activities, guidance on practical living skills and intensive counselling to give participants the confidence and skills needed to recover from mental illness, the organisation has been instrumental in driving a shift of focus within the Western Australian mental health sector.

Amanda Fay
P: +61 8 9757 1266
M: +61 408 807 870


Australian mental health,



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