An Indigenous man and former football star who runs a suicide prevention charity, a military veteran-turned-author who crossed the Bass Strait in a tinnie and a woman who developed the world’s first Mental Health First Aid program are among the seven finalists in the inaugural Australian Mental Health Prize.
The prize, established by UNSW Medicine's School of Psychiatry in partnership with a group of eminent Australians, is the first of its kind to acknowledge individuals at a national level. It recognises Australians who have made an outstanding contribution to the promotion of mental health, or the prevention and treatment of mental illness, in areas such as advocacy, research or service provision.
Selected from an impressive field of 130 submissions from across the country, the seven finalists come from diverse professional backgrounds and are involved in a wide variety of projects and programs.
“We were incredibly impressed by the calibre of submissions, especially as this is the very first year of the prize,” said Scientia Professor Philip Mitchell, Head of UNSW's School of Psychiatry.
“Australia is a world leader in many aspects of mental health, including raising community awareness, public advocacy and the provision of innovative services, so it is heartening to see some of this work, and the people who are undertaking it, get this well-deserved recognition," Professor Mitchell said.
"We had nominations for mental health nurses, people living with mental illness, community advocates, researchers and people on the frontline delivering mental health services right up to senior executives from some of our most well-known mental health organisations.”
UNSW Scientia Professor Henry Brodaty said the UNSW School of Psychiatry was "very proud to be involved in this prestigious prize".
"It is our hope that this prize will help to raise awareness of some of the incredible work being done around Australia in the field of mental health, and provide an incentive to organisations to continually improve services and outcomes for people living with mental illness,” said Professor Brodaty, who is also Co-Director of the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing.
The winner of the Australian Mental Health Prize will be announced at the formal award ceremony event at UNSW on 7 December 2016.
Australian Mental Health Prize 2016 Finalists
Annette Baker (NSW)
Annette established The Winter Solstice in her hometown of Albury, Victoria, an event that gives recognition to the many people dealing with suicide and their complicated grief. It encourages conversations about shared lived experiences, providing greater opportunities for healing. Annette lost her daughter Mary to suicide when she was 15.
Betty Kitchener (VIC)
Betty founded the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) program, the first of its kind in the world. Designed to give members of the public hands-on training in how to assist someone during a mental health crisis or episode, the MHFA program has a strong evidence base and has now been rolled out to over 20 countries with 1.7 million people trained globally.
Ian Hickie (NSW)
Ian is a major force in Australian mental health, the founding CEO of beyondblue, a key advisor to federal governments, a current member of the National Mental Health Commission and a strong public voice for improved mental health services. An internationally renowned researcher in depression, early intervention and youth mental health, he was instrumental in the creation of headspace and the Young & Well CRC delivering unique services and new online technologies to young people.
James Prascevic (VIC)
James is a former soldier in the Australian Defence Force who served in East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq from 2002-2011. After being discharged from the Army, James developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression, and began to self-medicate with alcohol. He has since written a book, The Returned Soldier, based on the diaries he kept and detailing his symptoms, treatment and ongoing battle with mental illness. He is a staunch advocate for mental health, and has crossed the Bass Strait in a ‘tinnie’ to raise funds for the Black Dog Institute. James will soon be a qualified yachtsman skipper and is currently planning to teach ex-soldiers suffering from a mental illness to sail in a controlled environment on his boat. He hopes to give them a chance to feel what he feels on the water – 110% mentally and physically well.
Joe Williams (NSW)
Joe Williams is a Wiradjuri man, former NRL player and professional boxer who runs his own suicide prevention organisation and charity 'The Enemy Within' (TEW). Joe travels around Australia speaking at schools, sporting clubs, workplaces, organisations and remote communities, where he delivers workshops about suicide prevention and how to maintain positive mental health and wellness. He is an advocate and leader in suicide education, prevention and support for all people, but has particular care for First Nations Australians, who are six times more likely than the non-Indigenous population to suicide. Joe fought his own battles with mental illness and drug and alcohol addiction, and survived a suicide attempt in 2012. From that time, he turned his life around and became committed to helping people understand and work towards optimal mental health and wellness.
John Mendoza (QLD)
John is a mental health and suicide prevention advocate, policy analyst and researcher committed to sector reform and reducing the rate of suicide in Australia. He has worked in alcohol and drug and mental health for nearly 35 years. John lost a nephew to suicide in 2014 and uses his knowledge as a former senior public servant and his personal experiences to educate the community about the issues associated with mental illness and suicide. John is a former CEO of the Australian Sports Drug Agency, former CEO of Mental Health Council of Australia and former chair of the National Advisory Council on Mental Health to the Federal Government.
Kim Ryan (ACT)
Kim is the CEO of the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses (ACMHN) and is a passionate advocate for mental health and for the profession of mental health nursing. Kim believes nurses and midwives have the capacity to improve the mental health of the community and, in particular, that health outcomes for people who experience mental health conditions are substantially improved when a mental health nurse is involved. Kim has worked tireless nationally and internationally through nursing and other mental health organisations to advocate for better mental health care for all. Kim was instrumental in establishing the collaborative Mental Health Professionals Association (MHPA) with the RACGP, the APS, the ACMHN and the RANZCP, and chaired the association to undertake a landmark $15 million project focusing on professional collaboration to improve mental health care.