The winners of the 2023 Australian Mental Health Prize have been unveiled at UNSW Sydney, celebrating exceptional individuals who have made significant strides in the realm of mental health advocacy. Since its inception in 2016, the prize has aimed to acknowledge the invaluable work carried out by Australians in the field of mental health.
Allan Fels, past winner and co-chair of the Australian Mental health Prize Advisory Group, says “These remarkable winners epitomise community leadership and resilience, channelling their personal experiences into transformative initiatives. Through their innovative efforts, they've dismantled stigma, ignited crucial conversations, and left an indelible impact on the landscape of mental health.”
Presented by the Hon. Emma McBride MP, Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, the 2023 Australian Mental Health Prize winners are:
Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander - to recognise and celebrate outstanding Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander mental health leadership at a national or community level.
Megan Krakouer (Fremantle, WA): Megan Krakouer, a proud Menang Woman of the Noongar Nation, is a First Nations rights beacon, reshaping laws and advocating for the marginalised. Amidst the disheartening rates of suicide within First Nations communities and the grim conditions at the Banksia Hill Detention Centre, Megan, alongside Gerry Georgatos, established the National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project (NSPTRP), which has served as a lifeline to more than 25,000 people, offering direct and comprehensive support ranging from financial assistance to psychosocial counselling. Megan's far-reaching impact is visible across Australia as she passionately advocates at events and in her written work. Especially poignant is her call to action on the devastating rates of First Nations youth suicide, with a staggering 80 percent of Australian child suicides occurring among First Nations children aged 12 and below. Megan's urgent plea for change resonates as she addresses the root causes – poverty, discrimination, and limited access to education – and emphasises the dire need for robust support systems, psychosocial interventions, and affirmative measures to prevent further loss of life.
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.
Dr. Geoffrey Toogood (Frankston South, VIC): Dr. Geoffrey Toogood, a highly regarded consultant cardiologist, is not just a distinguished medical expert but an impassioned advocate for mental health awareness. Triumphing over significant periods of mental illness, Geoffrey emerged with an unwavering mission: to destigmatise mental health discourse within the medical realm and spotlight the challenges faced by healthcare professionals. Rooted in his own experiences, Geoffrey established the Crazy Socks 4 Docs movement (crazysocks4docs.com.au) – a resounding campaign aimed at normalising mental health conversations among healthcare practitioners. The movement's cornerstone, Crazysocks4docs Day, observed every first Friday of June, has ignited global recognition and participation. From his personal recovery journey to his role as a Beyond Blue ambassador, founding his own charity, conquering competitive swimming challenges, including the English Channel,and Gibraltor Strait Geoffrey's dedication in dismantling mental health stigmas, especially among healthcare professionals, is a resounding testament to his unyielding commitment towards nurturing awareness, fostering support and catalysing impactful change.
Professional - to recognise and celebrate outstanding mental health leadership in the clinical, academic or professional sectors at a national level.
Professor Maree Toombs (Coogee, NSW): Professor Maree Toombs, a proud Euahlayi and Kooma woman, has revolutionised mental health and suicide prevention within Indigenous communities and exemplifies the transformative power of culturally attuned practices. Her research revealing Indigenous adults' 6.7 times higher prevalence of common mental disorders underscores the imperative for change. Developing collaborative care models with over 94 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, Maree exemplifies community-driven solutions. Her globally recognised Indigenous social enterprise suicide intervention training program, I-ASIST, has trained more than 800 Indigenous individuals. Embracing Indigenous perspectives attributing mental health to the spirit, collaborating with healers and psychologists, she paves a new path forward. Advocating practical services, she compels action, highlighting that tangible solutions are key to life-changing transformation.
Community hero - to recognise and celebrate outstanding mental health leadership at a State or community level.
Ali Faraj (Auburn, NSW): Ali Faraj shines as a prominent young Muslim leader in Australia, commanding respect for his impactful work. As the General Manager Community of the AFL club, GWS Giants, he fosters unity and mental well-being in Western Sydney through diverse initiatives, particularly among youth. Recognised as 'Case Worker of the Year' by the Migration Council Australia in 2015, Ali's collaborations with schools and government bodies emphasise social cohesion. During the COVID-19 lockdown, his leadership emerged through the GWS Giant Hand initiative, aiding over 15,000 vulnerable families and supporting their mental well-being. Ali's commitment to suicide prevention and mental health is evident through his role as the Board Chairman of Educaid Australia, a leading Mental Health not-for-profit organisation working with culturally and linguistically diverse and faith communities across Australia. He is an accredited Suicide Intervention trainer and presents often at local and national conferences, including recently being a keynote speaker at the Suicide Prevention Forum in Tasmania. His presence extends to being an adolescent expert featuring on national TV on the the ABC show 'Old People's Home For Teenagers', embodying his dedication to combating loneliness and depression across generations.
More background on each of the winners, quotes and photos available here. (More photos will be available after the event).
Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Attila Brungs said, "These remarkable individuals have not only inspired us but provided a guiding light for our nation's mental health journey. Their unwavering dedication to creating change serves as a testament to the power of resilience, compassion, and innovation in transforming the mental health landscape. We are privileged to honour their exceptional contributions to our society."
For more details about the winners and the Australian Mental Health Prize, visit www.australianmentalhealthprize.org.au.
Issued by Lanham Media on behalf of the Australian Mental Health Prize – UNSW Sydney.
Fleur Townley | firstname.lastname@example.org | 0405 278 758
Greg Townley | email@example.com | 0414 195 908
NOTES FOR MEDIA:
Available for interview:
- Winners of the 2023 Australian Mental Health Prize:
- Megan Krakouer (Fremantle, WA) – Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander category.
- Dr Geoffrey Toogood (Frankston South, VIC) – Lived experience category.
- Professor Maree Toombs (Coogee, NSW) – Professional category.
- Ali Faraj (Auburn NSW) – Community hero category.
- Lucy Brogden AM, Co-chair of the Australian Mental Health Prize Committee
- Professor Allan Fels AO, Co-chair of the Australian Mental Health Prize Committee
- Scientia Professor Henry Brodaty AO, Scientia Professor of Ageing and Mental Health, UNSW Medicine & Health Sydney.
The Australian Mental Health Prize
The Australian Mental Health Prize was established in 2016 by UNSW Sydney. It recognises Australians who have made outstanding contributions to either the promotion of mental health, or the prevention/treatment of mental illness.
The importance of mental health in Australia
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 impacts severely on a person’s capacity to work, to earn a living and to 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 greatest risk of suicide but least likely to seek help.
- In any 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.
Why establish the Australian Mental Health Prize?
Australia has led the way internationally in many aspects of mental health such as community awareness, public advocacy and innovative services. This includes innovative programs such as beyondblue, a mental health and wellbeing support organisation, and headspace, the national network of youth mental health services. Our open public discourse involving politicians and high-profile individuals occurs in few other countries.
The Australian Mental Health Prize:
- Acknowledges and recognises the important and ground-breaking work that many Australians are doing for mental health
- Raises public awareness on the importance of mental health and
- Provides an incentive to improve services and outcomes for people with mental illness.
What are the criteria for the Australian Mental Health Prize?
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. (Nominations of individuals who were previously nominated, but were not winners, are welcomed).
Who is involved with the Prize?
The Prize has been established by a group of eminent Australians in partnership with UNSW. Co-chaired by Lucy Brogden AM and Professor Allan Fels AO, the Prize Advisory Group comprises: Sophie Scott, Greta Bradman, Erandathie Jayakody, Melinda Upton, Jeremy Coggin, UNSW Scientia Professor Henry Brodaty AO, UNSW Professor Kimberlie Dean, UNSW Scientia Professor Philip Mitchell AM and UNSW Professor Valsamma Eapen.
Fleur Townley | firstname.lastname@example.org | 0405 278 758
Greg Townley | email@example.com | 0414 195 908