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Six impactful finalists have been selected for the 2021 Australian Mental Health Prize. The Prize, now in its sixth year and established by UNSW Medicine & Health’s School of Psychiatry, recognises Australians who have made outstanding contributions to the promotion of mental health or the prevention and treatment of mental illness.

This year’s winner will be announced by David Coleman, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, at an online ceremony on 17 November 2021.

The finalists include a broad spectrum of Australians who have dedicated their lives to improving the mental health and wellbeing of people and communities across the country.

“From fires to floods to COVID, we as Australians have never faced such a challenging time for our mental health. I think our finalists, and indeed all the nominees, have shown that our industry is ready to step up and be counted in our country’s time of need by innovating,” co-chair of the Australian Mental Health Prize Advisory Group, Lucy Brogden AM, said.

“This is not the year for a one-size-fits-all approach, and I’m thrilled by how our finalists have tailored their approaches to meet the needs of individual Australians.” 

The breadth of this year’s finalists demonstrates the diverse and deeply compassionate work being undertaken in many challenging areas: improving the care of veterans and first responders with mental illness, reducing the stigma of mental health in young people, promoting positive mental health in the performing arts industry, leading and advocating at a national and international level and embracing the power of digital media to amplify stories of lived experience.

Fellow co-chair Professor Allan Fels AO highlighted the strength of the talent working for better mental health in Australia.

“There were so many strong candidates in the field for this year’s prize. It was truly inspiring for me and the other judges to see such passion and dedication.”

Australian Mental Health Prize 2021 finalists

John Bale

John Bale has changed the face of mental healthcare for veterans and first responders through the two organisations he founded – Soldier On and Fortem Australia – which bridge key service gaps in the care of ex-Defence and first responder or national security communities. The organisations deliver mental health literacy, awareness, prevention and treatment, and are the leading non-governmental support agencies for these high-risk, yet deeply valued service communities. Both Fortem and Soldier On are unique in their focus on inclusion of the family members of serving personnel, acknowledging both their role in sustaining the viability of a high-stress workforce and the potential impacts of that role on the broader family’s wellbeing.

John was pivotal to the development of the National Centre for Veterans’ Healthcare, a holistic service for the 60,000 veterans in the community. Through the work of Fortem Australia, John also co-founded the Thank A First Responder Day, an initiative to recognise the effort and value of the work that all first responders do for the community and Australia at large, every single day.

Honor Eastly

Honor Eastly is an inspiring mental health advocate who has contributed significantly to the reform of Victoria’s mental health and wellbeing system, and to the lives of many individual Victorians, their families, carers and supporters. In 2018, Honor released the No Feeling is Final podcast about her experience of mental health issues, including suicidal ideation, and Victoria’s mental health system. The podcast was an enormous success, reaching many international “top podcast of the year” lists and winning multiple awards, including the Third Coast Fest Award. Honor also co-founded The Big Feels Club, a social experiment in connecting people with big feelings. The club creates safe spaces for individuals who may be experiencing mental health and wellbeing issues to talk, connect and reflect.

More recently, Honor was a key contributor to the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System as an expert advisor, sharing her lived experience to shed light on critical issues in the current system and advocating for meaningful reform. She then led the Our Future project, one of the first projects to implement the recommendations from the royal commission to develop standardised training for the lived experience workforces in both the mental health, and alcohol and other drug, sectors.

Professor Helen Herrman AO

Emeritus Professor Helen Herrman is one of Australa’s leading psychiatrists and mental health leaders whose research, advocacy and leadership over the past three decades have had a profound influence on mental health, both nationally and internationally. She has combined psychiatry and public health throughout her career to improve the mental health of marginalised groups such as the homeless mentally ill, people with severe and enduring mental illness, and children and young people in out of home care.

Helen established the World Health Organisation (WHO) Collaborating Centre in Mental Health at the University of Melbourne and subsequently embarked upon a new career direction in global mental health, which has included (among other prestigious appointments) Presidency of the Pacific Rim College of Psychiatrists, and more recently, the Presidency of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA). Helen is the first Australian and the first woman to be elected to this role with the WPA. 

A highly collaborative leader, Helen has forged the development of international partnerships between academia, health service providers and policy developers to influence good practice and promotion of mental health. Over 25 years, she has worked with a range of local, regional and global organisations, providing advice to committees, reports and consultancies on mental health and quality of life. Her contribution was recognised in 2017 with an Order of Australia (AO) Medal.

Professor Ian Hickie AM

Professor Ian Hickie AM has had a long and distinguished career as a world-class academic psychiatrist and thought leader. He has made major innovative contributions to knowledge in the field of mental health and has held a series of influential leadership roles in key institutions across the nation, from Beyond Blue to Brain and Mind, headspace and the National Mental Health Commission. He has been a fearless and highly articulate advocate for mental health reform and is a prominent media voice for mental health nationally. He has made uniquely effective contributions to prevention, awareness, improved models of care, biopsychosocial research and as a role model. He has published over 600 peer reviewed articles in leading international journals and has received many awards including an Australian Honours Award of Member (AM) for services to the mental health sector.

Sebastian Robertson

In 2011 at the age of only 25, Sebastian founded the not-for-profit organisation batyr, a mental health charity that has become a national leader in innovative mental health programs for young Australians aged 14 to 30. Sebastian was the Founding CEO for five years and remains actively involved as chairman. Batyr’s Being Herd Program came from Sebastian’s own lived experience with mental ill-health, where he felt the stigma and shame that many young people face. The peer-to-peer program trains young people to safely share their story of lived experience with mental ill-health, drawing out the hope, positivity and resilience in their stories. batyr has trained 888 young speakers and reached over 200,000 young people across Australia with its innovative programs.

Claire Spencer AM

Arts Centre Melbourne CEO Claire Spencer AM has made an outstanding contribution to the promotion of positive mental health in the performing arts industry. A chartered accountant with a Master's in Theology, she has steered the Arts Centre Melbourne towards increased social impact and sustainability, and through the COVID-19 emergency. Under her guidance and support, the Arts Wellbeing Collective (AWC) was established by Arts Centre Melbourne in 2017 in collaboration with the performing arts sector. The AWC is an initiative that comprises a consortium of arts and cultural organisations working together to promote positive mental health and wellbeing in the performing arts. This is a tailored solution, with the intention of addressing the very significant challenges to mental wellness that working in the performing arts represents at an individual, company and sector level.

The AWC has since won the Martin Seligman Health and Wellbeing Award at the 2019 Australian HR Institute Awards, has been a finalist in the VicHealth Awards ‘Improving Mental Wellbeing’ in 2017, 2018, 2019, and at the Australian HR Awards ‘Best Health & Wellbeing Program’ in 2017. Claire is the Chair of the Pinnacle Foundation and a member of Chief Executive Women. In 2020, she was recognised with appointment as a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for services to the arts and community.

The Australian Mental Health Prize was established in 2016 by UNSW through its School of Psychiatry, Australia’s pre-eminent psychiatric research department within UNSW Medicine. It recognises Australians who have made outstanding contributions to either the promotion of mental health, or the prevention/treatment of mental illness.