For over 80 years, WayAhead - Mental Health Association NSW (WayAhead) has been a key figure in running annual campaigns to engage the Australian community with issues of mental health.
Annual mental health campaigns began in the 1950s and were originally promoted by the Australian National Association for Mental Health, a peak body that coordinated state associations. However, each state now organises its campaigns separately rather than collaboratively, and NSW’s continue to be the largest.
Throughout the years, campaigns have varied from NSW Mental Health Day, and Week — to NSW Mental Health Month, which has run every October from 2010 until present.
The campaign was changed to a month-long event due to an overwhelming increase in the number of activities held by organisations commemorating the cause. Spread out over four weeks rather than one, this has allowed for a further reach and greater public participation.
Each year has had a different theme and slogan, addressing a different area of mental health. Themes have ranged from 2015’s ‘Value Your Mind’, to 1997’s ‘Labels Belong on Jars, Not People’.
WayAhead works to ensure that each Mental Health Month is innovative with a new approach. Behind each chosen theme lies thorough research and evaluation processes, assessing audiences and consulting key groups — such as the Transcultural Mental Health Centre, ACON and the Aboriginal Medical and Health Research Council (AM&HRC).
Since 1994, WayAhead has also presented the Mental Health Matters Awards at the beginning of each Mental Health Month. Awards and grants are given to organisations and individuals that have demonstrated momentous efforts in the area of mental health. The Awards showcase these initiatives and allow for public recognition and exposure. Since its inception, the significance of the Awards has steadily grown to the point where it has become one of Mental Health Month’s main focuses.
Each campaign has lead to greater engagement and been more successful than the last. In 2015, WayAhead launched a website specific to Mental Health Month, providing readers with information and a comprehensive list of events. The website will be expanded in 2016 to promote even further participation.
Elizabeth Priestley, CEO of WayAhead, believes that Mental Health Month has been crucial in raising awareness of mental health over the years and making it a less taboo topic to be discussed. This has lead to more people accepting mental health assistance and early intervention procedures. She says that “early intervention is essential to greater mental health in the wider community. The earlier mental health needs are identified and assisted, the less costs there are in the long run”.
As Mental Health Month continues to develop each year, WayAhead aims to encourage communities to come together and emphasise the importance of mental health in the everyday lives of us all.