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’ highlights for 2015-16:
“It is an honour to continue my appointment as Deputy Commissioner and to have the opportunity to work alongside the dedicated Commission team to bring Aboriginal people’s experiences of mental health and social and emotional wellbeing into the heart of the organisation’s thinking.
In July 2015 the Commission signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council (AH&MRC) formalising the important relationship of the two organisations, providing a platform for future collaboration, which I’m excited about.
As a member of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Leadership in Mental Health (NATSILMH) group I contributed to the development of the Gayaa Dhuwi (Proud Spirit) Declaration, which was launched in August 2015, calling for increased Indigenous leadership in Australia’s mental health system.
I was proud to be included in The Australian Financial Review and Westpac’s 2015 100 Women of Influence in October for my work in public policy in the area of Aboriginal mental health and social and emotional wellbeing."
Read Dr Shields' letter about the Strategic Plan.