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TheMHS Melbourne Conference 2021

—From Mark Smith, Te Pou Programme Lead, Outcomes & Information

I attended the 31st TheMHS conference this year held virtually 13-15 October in Melbourne. As a long time TheMHS judge my attendance was free!


The Mental Health Service-learning network conference this year was hosted by Melbourne even though it was a virtual conference. This conference rotates around the Australian state capitals and once every 8 years it comes to New Zealand. It was last here in 2016. These conferences are unique in bringing together clinicians, service users, family, researchers, managers, government officials and people interested in mental health and addictions. The theme this year was ”Hope into Action” which, given the pandemic, would seem a very apt theme and it was reflected throughout the conference.

This was a remarkable conference. The honesty and, at times, rawness of the conference was its defining feature for me. I suspect this was because of and not in spite of its being a virtual conference! The virtual streaming platform was easy to navigate and discussion forums and Q and A feature for all sessions made it seem interactive.


The standouts for me personally were:

  • The opening – with Keri Opai on the Taranaki beach and the wonderful opening poetry!
  • The Keynotes, particularly Helen Milroy on Aboriginal belief systems and John Brogdon on his journey from leader of the NSW opposition to suicide attempt, were inspiring and thought provoking.
  • The ‘This is my brave” sessions dotted throughout the conference full of poetry and personal stories of Hope, were amazing in their honesty, openness and hopefulness.
  • There was a NZ symposium with Phil Grady, Haydon Wano, Mary O’Hagen, Ian Soosay and Barbara Disley. This was an insightful session on the health reforms and mental health transformation in New Zealand. Mary O’Hagen challenged the group to fund peer work adequately.
  • The Peer workforce development session. Amanda Luckman had a great presentation on the ‘road less travelled…’ and the importance of the competencies and Action plan Te Pou has published recently.
  • The pandemic response session with all the mental health commissions from the Australian states and the national commissions from Australia and NZ. This was intriguing and showed how much we have in common with Australia.
  • The Mental Health reforms session, particularly Kerry Hawkins from Perth, was also interesting and inspiring.


The similarities between the mental health reforms in the Australian states are very similar to the proposed changes in NZ. There is a problem historically with the implementation of reforms in both Australia and NZ. Plans and strategies seem to find it hard to translate into practical reality! Big dollars are being spent in both countries to transform mental health services. These transformations stress lived experience, prevention/promotion, social determinants, wellbeing and cultural expertise. We have much to learn from each other.

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