The WA Association for Mental Health Inc. (WAAMH) was incorporated in 1966. It began as an umbrella organisation for church and charitable bodies providing voluntary services for mental hospitals and other institutions.
Among its founding members were the Combined Churches Group (the Combined Hospital Voluntary Services), the Catholic Women's Association and the Red Cross.
WAAMH's aims at this time were to provide voluntary assistance and promote mental health, the welfare of mentally ill persons and their dependents, and the education of the public on mental health matters.
Over the next 20 years, WAAMH's activities included:
- The organisation of Mental Health Week - now an annual event
- Organising Public Forums
- An Awards program for students excelling in Mental Health studies
- Publishing pamphlets and educational materials
- Board of Official Visitors memberships
- Advocacy on behalf of individuals
WAAMH also became the parent body for a number of non-government service bodies including ARAFMI, Alzheimers Association, Mind and the June O'Conner Centre (a drop in centre for people who live with a mental health issue). In time, these organisations became independent, incorporated, non-government agencies.
The Association also set up several projects for people living with mental health issues. These included:
- The '311 Club' at 311 Hay St, Subiaco for people living with a mental illness who wanted to have a fuller social life.
- The 'Crafters' and the MHA Shop for the sale of articles
- The 'Young Approach Club' for young people living with a mental illness or who were lonely.
By 1980 these projects had all vanished because of the lack of funding and support.
Over the next 10 years, WAAMH changed the emphasis to education, advocacy, lobbying and fundraising. An attempt was made to establish a Mental Health Centre staffed by an education officer, and establish a State Alliance of Mental Health Services but to no avail. Deep concerns prevailed about the lack of support for mental health services, particularly as people began moving out of psychiatric institutions to live in the community during this decade. Fear and prejudice about mental illness was high in a community that lacked the necessary support services to successfully move people out of psychiatric institutions.
Despite the difficulties facing WAAMH, resources were used to the best advantage.
- In 1983 WAAMH was involved in drafting a new mental Health Act
- In 1984 WAAMH organised a National Workshop for the international Year of the Child.
- In 1986 WAAMH petitioned the Health Minister for facilities for involuntary patients at the Sir Charlie Gairdner Hospital, and
- In 1989, WAAMH produced a policy statement on the need to establish a forensic unit at Graylands.
WAAMH gained recognition locally, nationally and internationally during the 1990's. Executives of WAAMH began meeting with the Health Department on a regular basis. WAAMH organised a National Conference on Mental Health in 1992 and undertook a joint project about Depression in the WA Community in 1993.
The Burdekin Report (1993) and the Western Australian Mental Health Task Force (set up by Graham Kierath the then Minister for Health) promoted and increased awareness of the need for community support for people with a mental illness in the 1990's. The Health Department began establishing community based Living Skills Centres. Community support was also provided from the Non-Government Sector through WAAMH member agencies including the Schizophrenia Fellowship and Lorikeet Clubhouse. There was a growing appreciation that Non-Government Agencies working with and beside the Public Mental Health Services had an important contribution to make in the area of mental health.
Constituent members of WAAMH became aware that in the new climate a peak body was needed to aggregate and articulate effectively the needs and aspirations of Non-government agencies and, more particularly, of those agencies consumer and carer members.
After a year of planning the Western Australian Association of Mental Health was reorganised as a confederation of Non Government Organisations with a council of delegates from member bodies. This in turn elected a Board of Management which in turn elected a four member executive.
A new Board was elected and took office in March 1996 under the leadership of David Kernohan for the first 18 months. Since this time Sheryl Carmody of Ruah Inreach and Keith Wilson (a former Minister for Health) have both provided a leadership role.