The Third National Borderline Personality Disorder Awareness Day Conference, generously sponsored by ‘Healthscope’, was held in Sydney on the 3rd and 4th of October 2013.
This Conference was convened in collaboration with the Mental Health Association of NSW, and with the crucial support of Project Air (Prof. Brin Grenyer) and the Hunter New England Health Centre for Psychotherapy (Assoc. Prof. Chris Willcox) and the support of the Mental Health Commission of NSW, Assoc. Prof John Allan (Chief Psychiatrist NSW), Dr Sathya Rao of ‘Spectrum’ (Victoria) among others.
Carers and consumers shared their stories and lived experiences including: Janelle Abbott, Renae Bennett, Eileen McDonald, Annemarie Bickerton, Toni Garretty, Rachel Bailey, Maxine Fennel, Lauralye Packer, Gaby Den Hollander and Jenny Learmont (AM) . In addition the important new National Australian Borderline Personality Disorder Foundation was launched at the conclusion of the Conference on day two by National Mental Health Commissioner (and carer) Prof. Alan Fels.
Three highly successful workshops were held on the 3rd of October; one targeted at Carers (based on the work of Project Air, ‘Staying Connected when Emotions Run High’ and facilitated by Toni Garretty and Annemarie Bickerton); one for Consumers on ’Emotional Wisdom’ facilitated by Maxine Fennel, Layralye Packer and Gaby Den Hollander; and one for clinicians ‘A Dialectical Behaviour Therapy Sampler’ delivered by Assoc. Prof Chris Willcox. The workshops were attended by nearly 140 participants and were enthusiastically received by attendees.
The Conference itself was held in the Gutherie Theatre at UTS on the 4th of October and hosted by popular ABC personality James O’Loghlin and attended by 144 people. After a video welcome from the NSW Minister for Mental Health, Hon. Kevin Humphries (MLA), the event opened with a ‘Welcome to Country’ by Ms Donna Ingram of the Metropolitan Land Council. Click here to see Donna's Welcome to Country
The NSW Mental Health Commissioner John Feneley gave the opening address noting that mental health services in the past had been too often unwilling to engage with people with personality disorders, (PD). However, NSW Health had taken strides in addressing the problem and the successes to date, with highly successful programmes like Project Air and the Centre for Psychotherapy in Hunter, equipping clinicians with the therapeutic psychological techniques to give consumers the skills to address the obstacles to wellbeing and recovery.
The honorary ‘Consumer Chair’ Janelle Abbott gave a powerful speech outlining her experiences as someone living with BPD. Janelle suggested people with BPD should be renamed ‘Highly Sensitive Souls’ (HSS). Janelle’s extraordinary courage in sharing her feelings to help others understand BPD and the help that help is available was greatly appreciated by the whole Conference and she received a standing ovation.
The honorary Carer Chairs Renae Bennet (Janelle’s sister) spoke and outlined another perspective of Janelle’s personal history. ARAFMI Board Member Jenny Learmont, also a carer for BPD emphasised the importance of further enhancing public mental health services capacity to provide the appropriate treatment for people living with BPD, until all who need it can access appropriate treatment.
Assoc. Prof. John Allen, the Chief Psychiatrist for NSW outlined how when he had been advised that the support and treatment available for Personality Disorders were among the most serious problems and prevalent problems which were often not being appropriately addressed by the current services and how Project Air had been set up as a result.
Dr Sathya Rao, from Spectrum in Victoria, described how the Victorian mental health system had started to address this issue some years ago. Memorably, he said, “My job satisfaction has never been higher than when working in this area, with BPD, because we actually help most people achieve a durable recovery, and that is not something mental health services can always achieve.”
Prof Brin Grenyer, the Clinical Director of Project Air then talked about this program and how Dr Rao’s advice had been pivotal in helping them to get the model right. Importantly Prof Grenyer stated, “People with BPD are wonderful, sensitive people, and helping them is enormously rewarding and worthwhile.”
Ms Eileen McDonald gave a carer perspective and noted how important it is to support carers of people with BPD in achieving recovery, with the caveat, “Use us, but do not abuse us”.
Ms Rachel Bailey discussed the mental health outcomes for carers of people living with BPD.
Assoc. Prof Chris Willcox then gave the perspective of consumers who had gone through the Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), one of the many psychological therapies recommended and proved as effective in treating BPD. However, Prof. Willcox also said that, “After 20 years of research there is now no doubt that BPD can be effectively treated by a range of psychological therapies and that they all work about as well as each other, meaning people can chose the methods that work best for them.”
Julien McDonald, CEO of the new National Australian BPD Foundation gave a talk about the role of the new Foundation after lunch, before James O’Loghlin read a prepared speech on the vision for the new Foundation. Professor Alan Fels, National Mental Health Commissioner then launched the Foundation with a wide ranging talk on the role of mental health reform in delivering better care and support and improved physical and mental health outcomes. Mental Health Carers ARAMI NSW in 2014 Annual Report