Australia has lost a pioneer in the lived experience movement with the recent passing of Anthony Stratford. 

Some of his many colleagues and friends from Mind Australia and elsewhere have made a heartfelt and insightful video tribute to Anthony, reflecting on his contribution to peer-led recovery oriented practice.

Anthony was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the early 1980’s, a time when recovery was never mentioned in mental health. Greatly aided by his mother, a doctor, Anthony mapped out a recovery journey for himself. He then dedicated the rest of his life to advocating for a recovery and lived experience approach to supporting people with mental health ill-health.

Much of Anthony’s journey from personal recovery to advocating for system change happened at Mind Australia. Anthony joined Mind in 2008 as a direct support worker in one of Mind’s earliest peer support programs. 

“This was when the sector didn’t know anything about lived experience or peer support workers or recovery oriented practice,” former colleague and now Mind Board member Erandathie Jayakody said. “There was no training, no peer supervision - but he was so good at working with people in educating them about what lived experience meant.” 

“Within a few short years he was one of the first (lived experience) Executives in a mental health service organisation and he went on to work with management in establishing a dedicated lived experience unit at Mind Australia. 

“He was working with some of the international leaders at Yale and Kings College in really raising the profile of the work we were doing in Australia and also bringing that work to Australia.”

Gerry Naughtin, who was CEO at Mind at that time, said Anthony pioneered Mind’s approach to lived experience. 

“We forget now how, in 2008 when Anthony started, how little lived experience there was… Anthony’s richest contribution to Mind was building its peer training programs and building the confidence and skills of others with lived experience.”

One of those colleagues was Robyn Callaghan, who first met Anthony when he was appointed her peer support worker at Mind.

“Anthony was a terrific support worker. He encouraged me to think bigger and to look at new horizons and to use my expertise and knowledge in the mental health field.

“Along with Anthony, Mind developed the peer support program, which was the first of its kind in Australia at the time and we won an award at the TheMS (The Mental Health Services Learning Network) conference for that. That was a very proud moment for both of us.”

Building bridges

Anthony’s friends and colleagues reflected on his particular ability to make connections with people, which he used to great effect in building the peer support movement.

His friend and mentor Professor Larry Davidson, Professor of Psychology at Yale University School of Medicine, described Anthony as a consummate ambassador.

“You don’t meet that many people in that field who can give credibility to, and weigh, opposing points of view, but Anthony seemed to understand everyone else’s position and was really a consummate ambassador in bringing people together,” he said.

“He was a bridge builder, bringing people together for a common cause and that common cause was to engage persons who were struggling and suffering into compassionate care so they could benefit from what psychiatry had to offer.”

Dr Sarah Pollock, former Executive Director of Research and Advocacy at Mind, also admired Anthony’s capacity for creating relationships and networks. 

“I think at the heart of these connections was Anthony’s desire to spread a message about the importance of lived experience in transforming mental health systems, and the importance of the lived experience way of knowing and voices in challenging the dominant biomedical models,” she said.

“He worked really well with universities and Royal Colleges; he worked well with heads of clinical services; always building those relationships with that purpose of spreading the word about the importance of lived experience driving recovery.”

Unwavering commitment to lived experience

Louise Byrne, a Senior Research Fellow at RMIT and Lived Experience Executive Advisor at Mind Australia, also praised Anthony’s contribution to strengthening the recognition of the legitimacy of a lived experience workforce.

“Anthony was one of the first people who really understood how important it was to get scientific evidence around our workforce to help to explain it and build its credibility – not only for other people, but also for us to understand better what it is that we’re doing and to articulate that,” she said.

Anthony co-published no less than eight peer reviewed papers over a 10 year period from 2013 with long time Mind research collaborator Professor Lisa Brophy and the University of Melbourne. 

This included papers on the role of recovery oriented practice in decision making about medication, his work in Indonesia to reduce the forcible restraint and confinement of people with mental ill-health (known there as Pasung), and his ground-breaking collaborative work to introduce recovery oriented practice to psychiatry trainees.

“It was a lovely experience to be there with Anthony feeling that great sense of justice and the need for change and the possibility that we could be involved in contributing to that to improve the lives of people with mental ill-health, which was always Anthony’s first passion,” Professor Brophy said.

Another long-time friend and colleague, Terry Laidler, now Board Chair of the Victorian Collaborative Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing, said Anthony was remarkably successful in getting mental health and wellbeing services in Victoria to recognise that peer support and peer design of mental health services were going to make a significant difference.

“He has changed the shape of mental health services – not singlehandedly – but with his own commitment and enthusiasm, knowledge, and also determination, quite significantly over the past 20 or so years,” he said.

Creating safe spaces

Fay Jackson met Anthony when she was the Deputy Commissioner of the NSW Mental Health Commission. She praised Anthony’s gentle gift for creating the safe space people with lived experience need to be able to connect and bond – and his achievements in building bridges for other lived experience leaders. 

“Through being an Associate Fellow of Yale, which he was so proud of, he worked to build a strong and proud lived experience workforce in Australia and the connections that he built with Yale University opened doors for advocates, activists and workers with loved experience,” she said.

Together with Anthony, Fay Jackson, Janet Meagher, Tim Fong and Erandathie Jayakody edited and co-wrote chapters in Peer Work in Australia, published in 2018, which brought articles and stories about peer work from across Australia into the one important resource.

Mind Australia is proud to have been the organisation in which Anthony was able to nurture his unique gifts and we treasure the legacy he has left behind – for us and for the broader community. 

Mind’s Senior Manager Inclusion and Participation, Katie Larsen, says Anthony’s “extraordinarily powerful contribution” is foundational to how Mind works in mental health support today.

“It has had so much influence on the way we think and the responsibility we hold to get this work right and that will stay with us at Mind for the foreseeable future,” she said.

“He truly is one of the giants and he will be deeply missed and loved for a long time.”