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Hunter mental health hub's national impact

The following article originally appeared in the Newcastle Herald 21/12/17.

I am feeling particularly reflective and grateful this week as Everymind marks its 25th anniversary. I have been privileged to be part of that journey for 16 years, with five years as the director.

Everymind, formerly the Hunter Institute of Mental Health, was established by the Hunter New England Local Health District in 1992 as a solution to the education and training needs of the mental health workforce and the broader community in the Hunter.

Led by well-known psychologist, and my first mentor, Professor Trevor Waring, the institute was self-funding from the first year and broadened its scope to deliver state-wide and national programs within its first five years.

The growth and reputation of the institute expanded under Trevor Hazell’s leadership between 2004 and 2012, as the flagship prevention programs working with the media, universities, schools, families and the community gained traction. In 2017, we have more than 40 staff designing and delivering cutting-edge programs in suicide prevention, innovation in workplace and family mental health, and we are set to co-lead a nationally funded Prevention Hub.

I am really proud of the work we have done, and are doing, at Everymind. This includes two decades of internationally recognised work with media in Australia to improve the reporting and portrayal of suicide and mental illness as part of the Mindframe Initiative.

The institute has pioneered pre-service training approaches for teachers and early childhood workers, and have developed practical community and family programs like Partners in Depression and Conversations Matter. We have also led improvements in workplace mental health approaches, with some of our current priorities focused on the mental health and wellbeing of small business owners, early career teachers, and medical professionals.

Everymind is one of a consortium of services locally that is leading the first state trial of LifeSpan – an integrated all of system and all of community approach to suicide prevention. Plus we are working with partners such as Hunter Primary Care to support the development and evaluation of the Way Back Support Service in Newcastle, and a complementary family support program for those impacted by a suicide attempt.

I have often been asked, how easy is it to run a nationally focused institute out of Newcastle? The answer – very easily. Not only does Newcastle have a track record for research and innovation, I believe that it is a unique point of difference that Everymind works from a regional base.

With a reform agenda that is advocating for national leadership and regional implementation, I believe it is a strength to understand how national or state programs work at the local level, and how prevention-focused work can best support and integrate with the service system. I will often sit in a national meeting when strategies are being discussed and think about whether that would work for Hunter communities.

As part of our 25 year celebrations, I am delighted to announce a new annual event for the region as a legacy to Professor Trevor Waring, the founding director of our institute. Everymind will partner with Hunter New England Health and the University of Newcastle to deliver an Expert in Residence Series and a Trevor Waring Memorial Lecture annually from 2018. The event will acknowledge Professor Waring’s contribution, and I couldn’t think of a better way to mark a significant anniversary.

Jaelea Skehan is Director of Everymind

Published: 21 December 2017