182 - 188 Lord Street (corner Edward St), Perth   (08) 9427-7100

Mental Health Carers Arafmi is the pre-eminent mental health carer organisation in Western Australia. As our members are families and friends of those with mental health issues, we put carers at the centre of everything we do, meaning our extensive list of services and our advocacy comes from a carer perspective. These services and membership are FREE.

In Detail
On July 20, 1976 the Western Australian Association for Mental Health, then known as the Mental Health Association, called a public meeting for carers of people with mental illness. A founding member of Arafmi who attended that meeting recalls it as follows.

An announcement appeared in the newsletter of the Mental Health Association, that Dr Hearn would be speaking and inviting any interested persons to start a group. About 70 interested people attended, if I remember, all bringing our fears, grief and guilt with us but hoping for some relief at last. Dr Hearn stood up, some of us had not met him before; he stood tall and straight and spoke clearly and directly with a statement I will never forget.

The Original Arafmi logo
"I want you all to know that there is nothing you have done, or haven't done or should have done, that would have made any difference to your sick relative. It was all inevitable, so I want you all to get rid of any guilt feelings before we start."

I as a mother heaved a sigh of relief, it was the kindest and most positive thing I'd heard for several years. My guilt was removed from that moment; it was the beginning of my learning experience in coping and coming to terms with mental illness.
Betty Rebakis, Arafmi Life Member.
In 1976 Arafmi commenced support groups in an upstairs room at 311 Hay Street, Subiaco. It was cold in winter and warm in summer. Mrs Jean Meharry, the secretary of the Mental Health Association led the first, very informal talks. Here at last was a place that carers could talk freely and unload their hearts to and share their problems with a group of understanding people.

We slowly changed from bowed down, heavy hearted parents and relatives to happier, relived and understanding ones with a great bond of empathy between us
Betty Rebakis
Over the next three years, the members organised themselves into a cohesive group. They succeeded in securing the funds to employ Pam Dolly, as a part-time social worker. Pam worked tirelessly to establish contact with allied professionals in both the public and private sectors to promote the services offered by ARAFMI and to help support families who had a member with mental illness.

The initial handful of volunteers, almost all of who were relatives with many years experience of living with people with psychotic illnesses received training in active listening. Pam designed and initiated the volunteer training programme.

It was unusual to train volunteers, and the people really welcomed it. They would come in and look after the office. They would do face to face as well as telephone counselling. It constantly amazed me that these people were not only coping with their own situations but were willing to help others. The self-help that grew out of this offered much more than a Government department could ever afford.
Pam Dolly, Social Worker
They learned to be "listening posts" assisting carers who rang Arafmi to clarify their options and to harness their emotions in a disciplined and constructive way. The onus was on these volunteers to become and remain informed. Volunteers were chosen for their personal strengths and life experiences. These dedicated people had the ability to understand and empathise with people needing Arafmi's special services.

"I would watch when people came in, they would sit around drinking coffee and talking to volunteers. People's relief was evident. They would come in feeling guilty, convinced that the way they had brought up their children had something to do with their child's illness. They would talk with the volunteers and their guilt would begin to lift"
Pam Dolly

Shirley Smith, Arafmi's second social worker, focused on the Association's identified need to build up support services in country areas. Albany was the first town to form a branch of Arafmi and Geraldton, Bunbury and Esperance soon followed.
Many changes occurred in psychiatric services during the 1980s and there was an increasing demand for non-government services. Arafmi responded by expanding its role considerably. Pat Carberry, the Association's first full-time staff member, commenced in 1987 and Arafmi now began advocating at a systems level as well as at an individual level. It was seen as an authoritative source for the concerns of the families and friends of the mentally ill and was asked to sit on many working parties and planning committees.

At this time Arafmi also extended its educative functions. It began producing booklets providing easily understood information about various mental illnesses and Arafmi members volunteered to speak to police cadets at the Maylands Academy, at hospital in-service courses and with nursing students at University and students at TAFE colleges.
From 1992 to 1996 Arafmi grew from a staff of one to an organisation of eight with a combined budget of close to $300,000. Developments during this period included the School Education Programme, the opening of Arafmi's first regional office at Osborne Park, the start or Respite Services in partnership with the Health Departments and the beginning of Arafmi's Youth Services.

The Mental Health Act 1996 led to a significant shift from treatment in hospital to treatment in the community, This change was lauded by carers, but resulted in an increasing shift of the burden of care from institutional settings to the home. Carers began to present at Arafmi with increasingly complex issues and increasing levels of stress. In order to help relieve some of this stress, a Holiday Respite programme was started in 1997
As service focus shifted from the hospital to the community, community agencies like Arafmi expanded to meet the increased need. In July 1996, Arafmi acknowledged the growth of the organisation by appointing its first Executive Officer, Leone Shiels. Her brief was to focus on the management of the organisation and ensure it remained accountable both to carers it represented and funding bodies. Strategic and Business Plans were developed to enable the organisation to achieve the goals set for it by carers. This separation of the management and counselling roles within the organisation allowed the counsellors, by then numbering three, to focus on their counselling role and to support the volunteers who continued to play a vital role. Throughout this period of change, the emphasis on a warm and inviting place where carers could come for help and support remained the primary consideration.