Growing up in the shadow of an asylum, Dr Robyn Shields’ first impression of mental illness was that it was about being locked away and was not to be discussed.
"I didn't know what asylums were about until I found myself having a professional career in mental health,” recalls Dr Shields of the asylum, which is now closed. " I was amazed and traumatised by seeing first hand the treatment mentally ill people were given in those days. It was awful."
Dr Shields has worked in the mental health sector for many years and is now undertaking specialist training as a psychiatry registrar.
Since her career started in mental health, Shields has concentrated on raising the status of people experiencing mental illness in the public consciousness, talking about trauma informed care and recovery, as well as developing new models of care for mentally ill people for the most disadvantaged groups, particularly Aboriginal people and forensic patients. “I’m interested in breaking the cycles and patterns of dysfunction in the mental health system.”
As a proud Aboriginal woman, Dr Shields is acutely aware of the need for communities to design and control their own services, “because of distrust from a long history of disappointments and oppression from government departments and particularly in mental health,” she says. “There’s no easy fix, but it’s essential it never gets put off the government’s agenda.”
Dr Shields appointment as Deputy Commissioner began in March 2013 is current until November 2018.
Highlights for 2016-17:
“A highlight for me was working with organisations like UNSW, Aboriginal Legal Service and Justice Health and Forensic Mental Health Network to look at how we can ensure that culturally appropriate evidence is provided in court matters, and to make sure individuals have access to culturally appropriate mental health support both in the community and when detained.
I was also appointed to the NSW Government’s seclusion, restraint and coercive practices review committee. I look forward to listening to the experiences of affected people, particularly in Aboriginal communities, and delivering recommendations for safer, less traumatising inpatient units.
I was honoured to present a keynote address to AH&MRC Meeting Ground 2017, which recognises the importance of Aboriginal self-determination in mental health. It was also an opportunity to pay tribute to Sandra Bailey, my long-time colleague and friend, as she departed the AH&MRC after 25 years. At that same meeting, the Commission and the AH&MRC renewed our Memorandum of Understanding, recommitting to improve the social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal people in NSW.”
Read Dr Shields' letter about the Strategic Plan.