The Mental Illness Fellowship of Western Australia (MIFWA) has been supporting Western Australian’s with mental illness for over 30 years.

MIFWA has a very clear mission. To walk alongside people affected by mental illness, providing personal-led recovery focussed support. To promote acceptance and understanding of mental health in the community, and to be a leader in innovation and systemic reform in mental health service delivery.

Starting out in 1980 as a grassroots support group for families where the Cebula, Kovich, Stitfold and Ursich families started meeting at each other’s homes with a shared purpose and vision: to improve the lives of their children diagnosed with schizophrenia by developing better support services and promoting greater understanding around mental illness in the community.

In 1990 The Schizophrenia Fellowship of WA (the Fellowship) was officially incorporated as an association. A carer support group was developed where attendees were able to catch up with old friends or make new ones and share experiences, ideas, and issues. The informal group was hosted by Irene Stitfold one of the founding members of the Fellowship. and was attended by consumers, carers, family members, friends, and health professionals.

By 1994 The Fellowship’s first service, the Lorikeet Clubhouse was developed in Shenton Park.

By 1996 funding provided was to facilitate carer support services and the Fellowship appointed an Executive Officer.

In 2002 The Fellowship changed its name to the Mental Illness Fellowship of WA (MIFWA).

2020 marked the 30th anniversary of MIFWA.

MIFWA has now grown to assist approximately 2,500 people annually, including people who have experienced mental illness, their families and carers. Now with a workforce of 200 people, they encompass satellite teams throughout Western Australia including East Metro Perth, North Metro Perth, Central Metro Perth, Wheatbelt, and Regional WA.

Monique Williamson, CEO of MIFWA spoke with Jobs Australia earlier this week:

  1. What makes the work you do at MIFWA so rewarding?

Mental illness can feel lonely, isolating, and overwhelming. MIFWA and many other community services with a shared mission believe no one should go through mental illness alone. We know that even small things like having someone to share the experience with, reassurance, knowledge and ideas about managing difficult emotions can make a big difference. As human beings, we are hard-wired for resilience and recovery. We see our goal as shining a light on each person’s potential. Many of our staff, over 50%, have a lived experience of mental health challenges and recovery. Many are in peer roles which means they use that lived experience to mentor and coach others through their own recovery journey.

At MIFWA we provide a variety of support and services for young people, parents and individuals. Importantly, we know families are often a primary support for individuals experiencing mental illness and we have a range of supports for families and carers. Every day we have workers across our community encouraging and assisting people with their recovery. Mental health is important, navigating recovery and our mental health system can be smooth, although for many it may feel complicated, that is where we can help. We are grateful for the many who have shared their personal learnings of recovery through lived experience leadership that help pave the way for others. Mental health matters, and what matters more is that we are in these challenges together.

  1. Have you seen a significant increase for services since the digital era has really taken off?

There has always been a high demand for community mental health services. We have seen a big increase since the pandemic. Community mental health services assist to keep people well whilst supporting recovery.

  1. What do you do as staff to look after your own mental health?

We are mindful of our own mental health and look for ways to support one another. Paying attention to all the challenges we face and sharing the load is a good methodology. Keeping physically well has a strong link to mental health. Paying attention to our thinking and stressors is also helpful as well as reaching out to others for support when required.

  1. How do you manage your reach in remote areas of WA?

Unfortunately, we have limited support and services in very remote communities, we offer training, information, and where we can online opportunities across WA.

  1. What do you hope to see in the future regarding mental health services and support throughout Australia?

We want to see a future where people who experience mental health challenges seek help early because there is no stigma and because timely and effective services are available.