The time has come for the Mental Health Commission of New South Wales to farewell two of its inaugural Deputy Commissioners, Fay Jackson and Dr Robyn Shields AM. Both Ms Jackson and Dr Shields took up their positions in 2013 and have worked with the Commission since the beginning of its journey.
Commissioner Catherine Lourey says the contributions that Ms Jackson and Dr Shields have made to the Commission over the past 6 years have been tremendous, particularly their determination to put people above all else.
“Fay and Robyn are not only advocates at the centre of mental health reform, they are advocates for people. They have ensured that we keep people and culture at the heart of everything we do at the Commission. This comes from their professional experiences but, most importantly, from their own personal experiences, their own backgrounds and their own struggles,” says Ms Lourey.
Dr Shields has had a long-standing career in Aboriginal health advocacy and policy at both the National and State levels, and is also undertaking specialist training as a psychiatry registrar. Dr Shields is passionate about reducing stigma and developing new models of care for disadvantaged groups, particularly Aboriginal people and forensic patients, and increasing awareness of trauma-informed recovery and care.
In 2013, Dr Shields helped the Commission to develop the issues paper, Yarning with the Aboriginal people of NSW which informed the development of Living Well: A Strategic Plan for Mental Health in NSW 2014-2024. She was included in the Australian Financial Review and Westpac’s 100 Women of Influence list and supported the Commission to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council.
Dr Shields was part of the leadership group to establish the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Leadership in Mental Health (NATSILMH) organisation, which has grown to be supported by every state and territory and the Commonwealth government. In 2015 Dr Shields worked with others at NATSILMH to develop the Gayaa Dhuwi Declaration, which was recognized as underpinning the approach for the 2017 Fifth National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan.
Over the past six years, Dr Shields has worked alongside the Commission to bring Aboriginal people’s experience of mental health social and emotional wellbeing to the forefront of the Commission’s thinking. She has represented the Commission at forums, consultations and conferences discussing Aboriginal mental health and the importance of increasing Aboriginal leadership in Australia’s mental health system.
Dr Shields was invited to speak to judges in NSW where she highlighted issues around intergenerational trauma, loss and grief. She is also currently assisting to develop the model of an Aboriginal Expert Witness for Aboriginal people who are before the court.
“The Commission is honoured to have worked with such an inspiring and proud Aboriginal woman, a leader and an agenda-setter of mental health reform. In all her work, Robyn strives to ensure that Aboriginal voices are heard, and that the mental health of disadvantaged groups stays on the government’s agenda,” says Ms Lourey.
Ms Jackson has also been a long-standing champion for people living with the effects of trauma and mental health issues, following her own experiences of surviving childhood and adult trauma, mental health issues and enforced treatment. In her work, she is driven by her inherited daughter’s suicide, and the suffering and loss of her much-loved brother and of all people with mental health issues and their families. She has since held many roles as a mental health advocate, and is currently General Manager, Inclusion at Flourish and founder of Vision in Mind.
Ms Jackson has represented the Commission and the lived experience community at conferences across Australia and internationally, bringing a lived experience perspective to topics including trauma, recovery, Peer Work, the elimination of all forms of seclusion and restraint, co-morbid physical ill health and mental health issues and the subsequent shortened life expectancy, the detrimental aspects of medication, prevention, early intervention and crisis support.
In 2017, Ms Jackson gave the Oration at the International Mental Health Nurses Conference where she spoke out about bullying, disrespect and intimidation of fellow nurses, as well as people accessing services. At the Council of Australian Tribunals that same year, Ms Jackson received a standing ovation after she spoke to judges, lawyers and academics about the need to remove the “professional barriers” and interact with people on a human level that considers the trauma they have suffered. Ms Jackson also spoke on ABC’s One Plus One program, where she discussed the importance of peer work and the link between trauma and mental health.
“For Fay, this is not a job – this is her life, her passion, and it’s an ongoing battle. We haven’t won yet, but Fay’s work has contributed greatly to the development of trauma-informed services for the people of NSW. Throughout her entire advocacy career, Fay has called people to attention and urged them to stand up for what is right, and the Commission is thankful for her courage and bravery” says Ms Lourey.
Ms Jackson has also been instrumental in the development of the Commission’s Lived Experience Framework, which will set the direction for embedding the voice of lived experience within the mental health and social service systems in NSW. She was also a key leader in the lived experience workforce and was integral to the building of the online resources for the Commission’s Peer Work Hub.
“We at the Commission are deeply appreciative of the knowledge, generosity and strength that Ms Jackson and Dr Shields have shared with the Commission during the challenges and celebrations of the past six years. We thank them for their service and wish them well in their future roles,” says Ms Lourey.