Jane Pirkis Australian Mental Health Prize Interview

Jane Pirkis Australian Mental Health Prize Interview

Outstanding finalists announced for the Australian Mental Health Prize

Six outstanding finalists, with decades of experience in challenging the boundaries of present knowledge about mental health care and prevention, have been selected for the 2018 Australian Mental Health Prize. The significant and tireless work of these individuals address all facets of the mental health sector including research, investment, innovation, prevention, partnerships, and improving awareness and understanding.

The finalists' work includes tackling structural barriers and transforming the way mental health services are delivered; addressing future mental health workforce pressures; training hundreds of young scientists; improving the ability of people to seek help; and facilitating the voice of those with lived experience of mental illness.

The prize, now in its third year, recognises Australians who have made outstanding contributions to the promotion of mental health or the prevention and treatment of mental illness.

"This year's finalists are catalysts for significant sector change and have made a major impact on the mental health landscape at all levels; in our communities at a grassroots level, as well as nationally and internationally through shaping policy and improving understanding," said UNSW Sydney Scientia Professor Philip Mitchell.

"Over the past three years it has been inspiring to see how the Prize has elevated the recognition of those working in the field of mental health," he said. "So many people dedicate their lives to ensuring better outcomes and care for those with mental illness. Their work deserves to be applauded."

Ita Buttrose, Chair of the Australian Mental Health Prize Advisory Group, said the Australian Mental Health Prize highlights the extraordinary work that is happening in Australia.

"One in three Australians will experience a mental health condition at some point in their lifetime. With so many people affected it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the challenge before us as a nation. That is why it is important that we highlight the incredible achievements and persistence of the dedicated individuals working in this field. Their work is making an incredible impact and saving lives every day. They deserve to be commended."

Leading international researcher, clinician and advocate for youth mental health and former Australian of the Year, Professor Patrick McGorry, will announce the winner at an award ceremony at UNSW on October 19.

About the Australian Mental Health Prize 2018 Finalists

Gavin Andrews, Sydney (Paddington) NSW
In a 60-year career in mental health Emeritus Professor Gavin Andrews has been an innovator, clinician, teacher and researcher. He is among the world's most highly cited scientists in this field. He is responsible for preparing the first ever set of clinical practice guidelines in psychiatry; the first National Survey of Mental Disorders; and a range of online courses for people with common mental disorders. Gavin thinks that the field is poised to offer cures to half the people who develop a mental disorder. Given good diagnosis and treatment, he says the person who is not improving in 30 days should "ask their doctor why".

Matthew Johnstone, Sydney (Balgowlah) NSW
Matthew is a passionate mental health and wellbeing advocate. He develops and delivers illustrated programs, videos and talks on mental health, resilience and wellbeing. Matthew has written, illustrated and photographed eight books, six of which have been local and international best sellers. His first book, I Had a Black Dog, details his journey with depression has been published in over 15 countries. The video version created for the World Health Organisation (WHO) has had more than 30 million views on their combined media platforms, the most viewed video in the history of WHO. Matthew has done creative consultancy for the Black Dog Institute, The Golden Door Elysia, Geelong Grammar, the government of Norway, CommBank, Sydney Trains and many other major corporates. His work has been endorsed by Stephen Fry, Edward de Bono, WHO and Google.

Janne McMahon, Adelaide (Felixstow) SA
Janne has worked as a mental health consumer advocate since 1997. She is the Founder and Executive Officer of the Private Mental Health Consumer Carer Network (Australia), the recognised peak Australian advocacy organisation for the private sector. She has appeared before ten parliamentary inquiries; has been a member of many expert reference groups, committees and working groups; is a member of the SA Health Practitioners Tribunal; and is a Board member of Mental Health Australia. Janne retired as a surveyor after 15 years. In 2008 she was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in recognition of her advocacy work.

Vivienne Miller, Sydney (Balmain) NSW
Vivienne has worked in mental health services in Australia and England for more than 45 years in many capacities: crisis intervention; suicide prevention and intervention; group analysis; management of quality improvement programs; creative arts therapy; therapeutic communities; and activity-based programs. She is a co-author of the National Standards for Mental Health Services (1996) and an advisor to the National Mental Health Workforce Standards. Since 1996 she has held the position as Conference Director of the largest, most inclusive mental health conference in Australia, TheMHS Conference, run through TheMHS Learning Network Inc. TheMHS attracts more than 1000 clinicians, managers, team leaders, consumers, families, educators, policy-makers and researchers annually and organises national mental health service achievement awards. Currently Vivienne is involved in developing a Museum of the Mind inside a Mental Health and Arts Precinct in inner Sydney.

Jonathan Nicholas, Sydney (Tempe) NSW
Jono Nicholas has a 21-year history and commitment to improving youth mental health. With almost ten years' service as the CEO of ReachOut – Australia's leading digital mental health service for young people and their parents – Jono has advocated for a change in thinking and that technology and smartphones can and will transform the way mental health and wellbeing services are delivered. In June this year Jono announced his departure from ReachOut and is currently the Managing Director of the Wellbeing Outfit, an advisory firm that improves organisational performance by improving the wellbeing and resilience of their staff. Jono has background in psychology and public health.

Jane Pirkis, Melbourne (Fitzroy) VIC
Professor Jane Pirkis is the Director of the Centre for Mental Health at the University of Melbourne. She has qualifications in psychology and epidemiology, and her work focuses on how to improve the mental health of populations. She is particularly well known for her work in suicide prevention and has conducted world-first research looking at how the media in all its forms might be used as a force for good to save lives. Her work has informed Australian and international guidelines for journalists on safer ways to present suicide-related stories, and she recently partnered with Movember and Heiress Films to make and evaluate Man Up, an ABC documentary and social media campaign on suicide and masculinity that was viewed by millions. Jane is the Vice President of the International Association for Suicide Prevention and the Editor-in-Chief of the premier suicide prevention journal, Crisis.

For more information visit: https://www.australianmentalhealthprize.org.au/

Interview with Jane Pirkis

Question: How does it feel to be an Australian Mental Health Prize 2018 Finalist?

Jane Pirkis: I feel extremely honoured to be an Australian Mental Health Prize finalist. There are loads of great people doing amazing things in the mental health sphere, so I feel very privileged to have been considered for the prize.


Question: What originally inspired your passion for Mental Health?

Jane Pirkis: I think I was always pretty passionate about it. I trained as a psychologist and then as an epidemiologist, and that was a perfect combination for me. It meant that I could apply my understanding of mental health and mental health issues to whole populations and answer some big questions, so that was really satisfying. Mental health is at the heart of everything really – having a positive outlook is protective against all kinds of adversity.


Question: How can Australians support you to improve the mental health of populations?

Jane Pirkis: I think one of the key things that will improve the mental health of whole populations is addressing the stigma that still surrounds mental health problems. We've come a long way, but there's still a long way to go. Stigma has a huge impact on people's lives, and often reduces their likelihood of reaching out if they are facing tough times. Winning the battle against stigma would take us forward in leaps and bounds.


Question: What message do you hope to spread during Mental Health Month?

Jane Pirkis: I guess one of the main messages I'd like to get across is that there is no shame in asking for help if you're not travelling so well. The other one would be that checking in with someone you might be concerned about can make a big difference. Starting the conversation, listening without judgment, and pointing people in the direction of professional help if necessary can have a major impact.


Question: How can we recognise and support mental health concerns in our family and friendship groups?

Jane Pirkis: Sometimes there are clear signs, like when someone who is normally upbeat and happy becomes withdrawn or aggressive. Often the signs are more subtle though, and may emerge gradually. I think the trick is to make sure that your friends and family know you're there for them, unconditionally. They may not want to talk now or in the immediate term, but the fact that they know they can is really important.


Question: Can you tell us about your work on Man Up?

Jane Pirkis: Man Up was a really amazing project. We had funding from Movember and worked with Heiress Films to create a 3-part documentary about how the societal pressures that men face to be tough and brave may be very bad for their mental health and may increase their risk of suicide. The documentary's presenter, Gus Worland, takes the audience on a journey through the hairy world of masculinity, meeting a range of individuals who have faced suicidal crises themselves and are now helping others to address the issue. There are some extremely inspiring moments, including a behind-the-scenes look at some of the tough calls Lifeline workers deal with, and a workshop in which Gus's son and his schoolmates confront stereotypes and think about how society shapes the way they behave. Gus's journey culminates with him taking matters into his own hands and creating a campaign ad with the tagline, 'Man Up. Speak Up.' We were delighted that when the documentary was screened on the ABC in 2016, the ad went viral.


Question: What do you hope audiences took away from Man Up?

Jane Pirkis: Actually I know what audiences took away from Man Up because we conducted an extensive evaluation along the way. We know from the evaluation that after watching the show, men were significantly more likely to reach out for help and to encourage a mate to do the same, and that their conformity to masculine norms had shifted. The response to the show was amazing, and we heard numerous stories from viewers about how it had been the catalyst for conversations that had previously never been had.


Question: What's next, for you?

Jane Pirkis: I'm very keen to keep exploring different ways of using the media – in all its forms – as a force for good in mental health promotion and suicide prevention. We've got a few projects on the go that are doing this, including one that I'm absolutely loving. We were funded by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to run a competition for young people to create 30-second suicide prevention campaign ads. Around 40 young people attended a summit at the end of July to learn about suicide prevention messaging and creating ads, and they have since gone away in pairs and created an amazing batch of ads. We currently have an international panel judging them, and we'll be announcing the winners soon.


Interview by Brooke Hunter




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