In a spirit of joy and gratitude, more than 100 guests attended the 2022 Catholic Social Services Victoria (CSSV) dinner on Friday, 11 November. Staff and volunteers of CSSV member organisations, and friends of CSSV gathered at The Treacy Centre, run by the Christian Brothers, in Parkville for the first annual dinner since the COVID-19 pandemic commenced in March 2022.
There was an atmosphere of warmth and appreciation as we gathered to celebrate and acknowledge the works conducted by our 40 members, and affiliated organisations within Victoria. Guests travelled from across Melbourne, Ballarat, Geelong, and parts of Gippsland, as well as from interstate.
Neil Murphy of St John of God Accord emceed the event, ensuring guests were entertained and kept informed as to both the formal and informal proceedings of the evening. Guests speakers included Marcelle Mogg, Chief Executive of Mental Health Victoria and Dr Mark Furlong, Thinker-in-residence at the Bouverie Centre (Latrobe University) sharing their insights and reflections on the topic, ‘Mental Health as Chameleon’.
In welcoming the guests and setting the scene for the speakers, Josh Lourensz, CSSV Executive Director explained, ‘The term, “mental health”, remains a term without a consensual meaning. However imprecise, the term is increasingly used in the media, in ordinary workplaces, in social service and health contexts and in everyday conversations. With Victoria’s extended lockdowns and very real economic, climate and geopolitical challenges, mental health has become a lens through which a wide range of issues are being addressed.
‘There are pros and cons in this development. For example, the term “mental health” sometimes denotes “the absence of mental illness” but notably, the term can also be invoked as a euphemism, even as a disguise, to avoid the awkwardness of talking directly about mental illness, or to avoid talking directly about negative mood and associated emotions. This unstable position is a key element in the context within which the Royal Commission operated, and under which its recommendations have begun to be implemented.
Catholic social services also relate directly with this dynamic context. This is the case in our work with consumers – with those who experience illnesses, acquired brain injuries, substance abuse issues and many other challenging complexities – as it is in our engagement with health providers, in ‘prevention’ and ‘direct service response’ modalities.Josh Lourenz, CSSV Executive Director
The panel discussion highlighted several distinct perspectives on ‘mental health’, aiming to develop a reflective discourse on ‘mental health’ as lens, policy framework, and health determinant.
In her reflections, Marcelle Mogg, shared, ‘There is much expertise and goodwill, but the system is in crisis despite the Royal Commission. The pandemic led to increased demand and an inability to offer sufficient capacity of mental health care… Mental illness still has a stigma. Many families are unwilling to talk about it. The Royal Commission rightly heard the voices of and addressed the importance of those with “lived experience” but many of them are burnt out.’
Dr Furlong added, ‘Mental health is affected by the social determinants of health – social exclusion, inequality, and social connection outside the mental health sector. The Robodebt Persecution of people on welfare showed that we are social beings rather than individual beings stopping at our skins.
‘The big mental health privatisation process is fuelled by therapies like Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), mindfulness, and CRP or Seratonin inhibitors. But they do not address the situation of a quarter to a third of the population in the precariat, subject to the whims of neo-liberal corporations. We are not over pathologizing mental health but we need to scratch below the surface of its traumatic impacts.’
There was an opportunity for questions and further discussion, with the evening ending with a raffle and an auction, raising over $1,000 for the work of CSSV.
A big thank you to all who attended to help create such a festive and joyful occasion, an opportunity to invigorate our shared work, purpose and mission. We have much to celebrate as we continue to strive to serve the poor and marginalised, and in creating a more just and equitable society, for all.
We’re also grateful to Catholic Development Fund for their solidarity sponsorship and St John of God Health Care for their contribution as common good sponsors.
Photography by Fiona Basile