Inspiring Australians Making Change for Mental Health
Four incredible winners have been announced at UNSW Sydney for the 2022 Australian Mental Health Prize, which seeks to recognise the important and ground-breaking work many Australians do for mental health. Established in 2016, the Prize expanded to four categories: Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, Lived Experience; Professional; and Community Hero.
The Prize is awarded annually to Australians who have made outstanding contributions to the promotion of mental health or the prevention or treatment of mental illness – in areas such as advocacy, research or service provision. This year the awards were presented by the Hon. Emma McBride MP, Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention
Category: Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander – to recognise and celebrate outstanding Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander mental health leadership at a national or community level.
Donna Stanley, a proud Gunggari Umby (woman), is a vastly experienced leader in Aboriginal mental health and well-being and a deeply compassionate, ethical and skilled clinician. Donna’s contributions to mental health recovery have been personal. Her brother died from suicide almost 30 years ago, and she has since dedicated her life to supporting others. She has been a tireless advocate for the mental health needs of her people, applying her knowledge of how Aboriginal communities’ social structures influence the mental health of individuals.
She is regularly called upon to interpret issues of grief, loss and trauma common among Aboriginal people arriving at the hospital in acute distress. Her work includes coordinating the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health First Aid Program and working with the NSW Mental Health Commission. In 2018-19 she provided valuable leadership throughout a performance audit into mental health services for Aboriginal people in NSW. Donna is currently the acting Executive Director of Aboriginal Health and Well-being for Western NSW Local Health District. She assisted in leading a team in Western NSW LHD with a culturally and clinically safe model of care for Aboriginal people and communities during the Delta outbreak in 2021.
Category: Lived experience – to recognise and celebrate outstanding mental health leadership by someone with lived experience of mental health, either personally or as a supporter, at a national level.
Ian Thorpe AM has been a prominent advocate for mental health awareness, prevention, stigma reduction and help-seeking since publicly speaking about his lived experience in 2014. He has drawn on his own experience of anxiety and depression to connect with and reassure others that they are not alone and to encourage and inspire them to seek support.
As one of Australia’s most famous Olympians, his work has been especially impactful in reducing stigma and normalising conversations about mental health. Ian has also been instrumental in creating the mental health fundraising initiative Laps for Life, leading its publicity since 2019. Laps for Life is a national swimming challenge event designed to support the participants’ mental health and well-being while raising funds to prevent youth suicide. Since its inception, over 20,000 people across Australia have participated, and the event has raised over $5 million for youth mental health support services.
Category: Professional – to recognise and celebrate outstanding mental health leadership in the clinical, academic or professional sectors at a national level.
Alan Woodward has a long and distinguished career in suicide prevention and mental health, with a specific interest in evaluation and quality improvement, particularly in crisis services. He has contributed to service development, innovation, and policy advocacy for many years, most recently speaking at the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran suicide. He is well-known and respected in the sector for his contribution.
Much of the last 20 years have been spent working with Lifeline Australia, where he led many organisational reforms, including building a strong evaluation function to achieve better outcomes for individuals and communities. This included establishing and leading the Lifeline Research Foundation from 2011 to 2018. His career has spanned executive roles in the public sector and private consulting work, specialising in human services, community engagement, performance measurement, continuous improvement, and evaluation. Alan is currently a part-time National Mental Health Commissioner.
Category: Community hero – to recognise and celebrate outstanding mental health leadership at a State or community level. Gary Thorpe OAM.
After becoming aware of the impact of social isolation, depression and dementia on the elderly, Gary Thorpe OAM created Silver Memories, a 24-hour-a-day nostalgia broadcast service based on the principles of Reminiscence Therapy. The service broadcasts age-appropriate music (presently 1930s to 1970s) and screens thousands of beautiful images to engage people in aged care, particularly those with dementia.
The service has been operating for 15 years as a not-for-profit service. It is now broadcast via satellite to almost 200 aged care homes across Queensland, New South Wales, ACT, Victoria and South Australia. Silver Memories does not receive operational funding from any level of government and is supported by subscriptions, donations and philanthropic funds. Through Silver Memories, Gary has raised awareness of the need to provide age-appropriate entertainment for people with dementia in aged care.
Co-chair and past winner of the Prize, Professor Allan Fels AO, said this year’s winners reflect Australia’s current mental health priorities. “In particular, we have seen higher rates of mental illness during COVID, especially in youth, Indigenous and LGBTIQ+ communities; higher rates of suicidal attempts; greater isolation of older people, particularly in nursing homes; and pervasive mental health needs of our veterans, which are currently being examined by the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran suicide. I applaud this year’s winners for their deeply challenging work in these critical areas.”
Mental illnesses are common and highly disabling. In any one year, one in five adult Australians and one in seven children aged 4 to 17 will experience some form of mental illness. One in three Australians will have a mental illness in their lifetime.
- Mental illness severely impacts a person’s capacity to work, earn a living and maintain close relationships.
- A quarter of Australians aged 16-24 are experiencing a mental illness at any given time. Many people who live with mental illness first experience symptoms during adolescence.
- Suicide rates are unacceptably high, with more than 3000 Australians taking their own life each year.
- Men are at the greatest risk of suicide but least likely to seek help.
- In one year, around one million Australian adults have depression, and over two million have anxiety. Depression has the third highest burden of all diseases in Australia.
- Indigenous Australians experience much higher rates of psychological distress than the general population and lower access to mental health services.
- LGBTIQA+ people experience very high rates of depression and psychological distress and are the most at-risk group in Australia for suicide.
- Women are more likely to experience depression and anxiety during pregnancy and the year following birth.
For more information, visit www.australianmentalhealthprize.org.au
Ponderers and counting...
We ponder with Alana and Michele Scarce, sisters who infuse every endeavour with their infectious energy, spirited leadership, and humour. The founders of Raw Pawz spill the tea!
We ponder with Warren Davies, known as ‘The Unbreakable Farmer’, an icon of rural mental health in Australia.
In the enchanting realm of Wallington, there exists a story of love that transcends mere emotion. It’s a tale woven into the fabric of an abode that’s more than a venue – The Barn Wallington.