Australia Day honours: Pamela Rutledge's commitment to improving mental health

From a young age Pamela Rutledge has sought to be part of creating a better society in which to live.

"Early on, I was convinced that we needed to change systems at a community level to build a better society for people. Mental health and wellbeing and being resilient is so important ... and being able to be part of the community. All these things make us able to live the lives we live," she said.

The Woodford resident was appointed as a Member of the Order of Australia in the Australia Day honours, for significant service to people living with disability or social vulnerability.

"It's a great honour and very humbling," the 74 year old said. "I've always been part of a team or leaders of organisations. It's got to be shared with all the people."

Early in her career, Ms Rutledge was a social worker in front line mental health service delivery and was the executive officer of the Richmond Inquiry in the early 80s which influenced the delivery of services for people with mental illness and those with a developmental disability.

She worked in the public sector for many years, before moving to not for profit sector in 2009 as CEO of the Richmond Fellowship of NSW and then CEO of the merged Flourish Australia, creating "something new and better."

"The focus was on recovery and the voice of lived experience in mental health recovery," Ms Rutledge said. They employed staff who had experienced mental health issues, and the organisation has been "going from strength to strength".

In 2019, she was appointed part-time Deputy Commissioner of the NSW Mental Health Commission.

"We know that there are so many great services out there now. But it is very uneven. We need to see long-term investment on a regular, planned basis to get everything to a level that people can get the service that they need," Ms Rutledge said.

While people continued to "fall through the cracks" there was work to do. Having places open 24 hours a day, where people experiencing a mental health crisis would have someone to talk to, was important.

And to deal with the escalating mental health issues as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, she said supports must be built at a community level. "Undoubtedly there are heightened levels of anxiety and depression and people feeling isolated and lonely," she said. "The right response to that is to get the community working and encouraging people to connect, reaching out to their neighbours and each other. Connection is the biggest preventative factor".

Ms Rutledge moved to Woodford from Sydney more than two years ago. She also enjoys singing in a community choir, and contributes to the primary school ethics program at Hazelbrook Public. "It's great to contribute to the community. To see kids learn how to be good citizens and be respectful and be kind and make their point of view [respectfully]."

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