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Four incredible mental health heroes recognised for the 2022 Australian Mental Health Prize

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 that many Australians are doing for mental health. Established in 2016, this year the Prize expanded to four categories: Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander; Lived Experience; Professional; and Community Hero.

Presented by the Hon. Emma McBride MP, Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, the 2022 winners of the Australian Mental Health Prize are:

Category2022 Winner
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, Orange NSW Donna Stanley, a proud Gunggari Umby (woman), is a vastly experienced leader in Aboriginal mental health and wellbeing, 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 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 Aboriginal Health and Wellbeing 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.
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, Sydney NSW Ian Thorpe has been a prominent advocate for mental health awareness, prevention, stigma reduction and help-seeking since first publicly speaking about his own 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 the creation of 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 wellbeing, while also raising funds to prevent youth suicide. Since its inception, over 20,000 people across Australia have taken part and the event has raised over $5 million for youth mental health support services.
Professional – to recognise and celebrate outstanding mental health leadership in the clinical, academic or professional sectors at a national level.Alan Woodward, Kiama NSW 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 has been working with Lifeline Australia where he led a wide range of organisational reforms including building a very 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, 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.
Community hero – to recognise and celebrate outstanding mental health leadership at a State or community level.Gary Thorpe, Brisbane QLD 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 provide engagement for people living in aged care, particularly those living 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 living with dementia in aged care.

Quotes from the winners and photos available here. (More photos will be available after the event).

Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Attila Brungs said “The important leadership of this year’s extraordinary winners showcase the diverse and critical work being done across Australia during challenging and unprecedented times. Congratulations to each winner for their invaluable contribution to the wellbeing of our nation in their respective fields.”

Co-chair and past winner of the Prize, Professor Allan Fels AO, said this year’s winners reflect the current mental health priorities in Australia. “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.”

Vlado Perkovic, Dean of Medicine & Health and Scientia Professor at UNSW, says “Australia leads the way in innovative approaches to mental health and it is important to recognise those that dedicate so much of themsevles to improving the mental wellbeing of our communities.”

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