Top Mental Health Prize: Two Outstanding Winners Announced

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Dual winners of the 2019 Australian Mental Health Prize were announced recently at UNSW Sydney, recognising two incredibly worthy advocates that represent the important work being done to improve mental health across the country.

The 2019 winners of the award are Joe Williams, a tireless community advocate for suicide prevention and mental health wellness, and Christine Morgan, a passionate and dynamic leader in mental health reform and recently appointed as Suicide Prevention Advisor to the Prime Minister.

Joe and Christine were chosen out of an exceptionally strong field of seven finalists for the prize, now in its fourth year. The prize is supported by UNSW, through its School of Psychiatry.

Ita Buttrose, Chair of the Australian Mental Health Prize Advisory Group says “The Australian Mental Health Prize has established itself as an important platform to recognise those making a significant contribution in mental health in this country. This year’s winners and finalists demonstrate the diverse and deeply compassionate work being undertaken in many challenging areas across this nation.”

Christine Morgan, Lane Cove NSW

Christine Morgan is the CEO of the National Mental Health Commission, tasked with bringing together the 2030 Vision for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention and associated system reform for Australia. As former CEO of the Butterfly Foundation, she led a collaborative advocacy strategy that included amplification of eating disorders as a serious mental and physical health issue.

“I am incredibly honoured to have been selected as a dual winner of the Australian Mental Health Prize. It provides an opportunity to pause and reflect on the journey to date, what has inspired me along the way, and to acknowledge the sheer dedication and support of the mental health sector and individuals with a living experience of mental illness,” says Ms Morgan.

“Mental ill health affects all Australians and for this reason it is everyone’s business.  Just as we will suffer from physical ailments, there will be times when our mental health and wellbeing will need attention and care. That is part of being human.

“Many of us will also experience mental illness – specific psychological disorders that require treatment and support from multidisciplinary professionals – or care for someone with a mental illness at some point in our lives. However, the levels of stigma – self, attitudinal, structural – are harmful and all too frequently are the reason for people delaying or avoiding seeking help.

“I am inspired and driven by the stories of those who face and seek support for their mental illness – and who are testament to the fact that mental illness does not prevent anyone from  living a contributing life, but also in which they can and do thrive.

“Thank you to all who walk this journey by dedicating their time and expertise to ensure all Australians can have access to good mental health and wellbeing care and support,” concluded Ms Morgan.

Joe Williams, Dubbo NSW

Joe Williams is a Wiradjuri/Wolgalu man, former pro athlete and mental health advocate. Joe has battled the majority of his life with suicidal ideation and bipolar disorder. After a suicide attempt in 2012, Joe felt his purpose was to help people who struggle with mental health challenges through his organisation The Enemy Within. He now spends most of his time working to inspire people through motivational speaking workshops in communities across the country.

“When I was experiencing mental health issues, I didn’t speak to anyone about what was going on inside my head. Rugby league was a tough man’s sport so I didn’t want to show what I thought at the time was weakness. Considering the stigma that still exists around mental illness today, imagine what it was like 20 years ago,” says Joe. “After I attempted suicide, I started to talk to people about my struggles, which in turn led to speaking in schools, sports clubs and elsewhere. The conversation was alive. The more I helped people heal from their traumas and tough times with mental illness, the more it started to help me.

“I deliver a lot of programs in regional and remote communities because the suicide rates are astronomically bigger. The issue is with isolation and being far away from services. As Aboriginal people we have the highest suicide rates on the plant. Our wellbeing is deeply embedded within the land. My biggest healer has been connection to culture and country.

“I am extremely humbled to be named a dual winner of this year’s Australian Mental Health Prize and would like to acknowledge the incredible work of my fellow finalists. We are all in this together. The work ‘The Enemy Within’ does in communities across the country is about alleviating the despair that people face with mental health challenges every day. Suicide prevention starts in the family home, around the kitchen table. If you see someone struggling, don’t wait for them to reach out, find out. 

Scientia Professor Henry Brodaty, UNSW School of Psychiatry, says “Australia leads the way internationally in many aspects of mental health and it is important to shine a light on those who dedicate so much of themselves to continually improving our approach in this area. This year’s dual winners, Christine and Joe, showcase the incredible work being done that we should all be proud of and grateful for.”

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Each year Lanham Media works closely with the Chair of the Australian Mental Health Prize Advisory Group, Ita Buttrose, to achieve significant and wide-reaching media coverage across print, radio and TV for the prize, including the call for nominations and announcement of the finalists and winner.

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