Two winners announced for Australia's top mental health prize

Mental health advocate Honor Eastly and Professor Ian Hickie AM are winners of the 2021 Australian Mental Health Prize.
UNSW Media | UNSW Newsroom

Dual winners of the 2021 Australian Mental Health Prize were announced today, recognising two individuals striving to improve the mental health landscape across the country. 

The 2021 winners of the award are Honor Eastly, mental health advocate, writer and podcaster, and Professor Ian Hickie AM Co-Director, Health and Policy, the University of Sydney's Brain and Mind Centre. The Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, the Honourable David Coleman MP presented the winners with their awards during an online ceremony on Tuesday.

Ms Eastly and Prof. Hickie were chosen from an extraordinarily strong and diverse field of six finalists for the prize, now in its sixth year. The prize is supported by UNSW Medicine & Health, through the School of Psychiatry. 

Lucy Brogden AM, co-Chair of the Australian Mental Health Prize Advisory Group said: "The 2021 winners of the Australian Mental Health Prize are two outstanding Australians. Their contributions to the mental health sector reflect the breadth of work being done. Honor and Ian are strong advocates, using their voices and in fact the voices of many to improve participation, to improve access and to improve care."

Fellow co-chair, Professor Allan Fels AO agreed: “The opportunity the prize provides for our winners to openly discuss and debate the best options for mental health treatment in Australia is critically important. They challenge us with their work, highlighting the flaws in current models and pushing for change.” 

Honor Eastly

Ms Eastly is an Australian artist, writer, podcaster and mental health advocate for a strong consumer voice. Her podcast No Feeling is Final has been downloaded over 500,000 times and she co-founded the Big Feels Club, an online community with more than 6000 members changing the way Australians talk about emotional distress and crisis. She was a Senior Advisor to the Royal Commission into the Victorian Mental Health System and part of their Expert Advisory Committee.

Honor’s testimony to the Royal Commission led to a role as the lead trainer and supervisor for the Expanding Post Discharge Support program, a seismic shift in service delivery which saw peer workers employed in all inpatient units across Victoria. The shift was a long time coming and there is more to do.

On winning the prize, Ms Eastly said: "I'll be advocating for the things I know would've helped and would still help me. Solutions that are led by people with their own experiences of mental health struggles such as peer respite, peer-led alternatives to emergency departments, peer-led crisis lines. There are examples of these in small pockets of Australia and around the world showing excellent results.” 

The mental health reforms currently happening in Australia are an opportunity to reshape how we respond to mental health struggles in this country, she said. 

“It also means there is a huge responsibility to make sure that we do it right. We need to make sure that people who've lived through these issues are at the very heart of how we transform the system,” Ms Eastly said.

The collective of shared lived experience is important to recognise through this award, she said.

“To me this award is a big vote of confidence for investing in services that are run by people with their own experience of mental health struggles - like the initiative I run, The Big Feels Club. I hope we see more leaders who are coming to their work in mental health off the back of their own hard-won life experiences,” she said.

"I've had a very non-linear career in mental health, so I've had many moments where I've questioned my work or whether it's really valued by the broader system. Winning the Australian Mental Health Prize is a big deal because it shows me that the kind of work that I and others like me with their own personal experience of mental health struggles [do] is valid and valued on the national level.”

Professor Ian Hickie AM

Prof. Ian Hickie is an internationally renowned researcher in depression, early intervention and youth mental health. He was founding CEO of beyondblue and helped create headspace and the Young & Well Cooperative Research Centre. He was also an inaugural Commissioner on Australia’s National Mental Health Commission overseeing enhanced accountability for mental health reform and suicide prevention.

“It’s very humbling to receive this most prestigious award,” Prof. Hickie said. “I assume that it is far less about ‘me’ and much more about ‘us’ – meaning that it reflects a wider appreciation of the collective value of the various teams that I have been privileged either to lead or those where I have been an integral member.”

As one of the dual winners of the prize Prof. Hickie will continue to advocate for a modern approach to mental health.

“We need much smarter, 21st century approaches to the implementation of effective public health and health services investments across our nation that really have a chance of delivering greater mental wealth for all who reside here,” Prof. Hickie said. “After 30 years of our national mental health strategy, we can’t simply do more of the same and expect to get different outcomes for those most affected.”

“To achieve better outcomes, we need smart regional implementation of the best social and health services options, co-designed with local communities, supported by 21st century technologies and linked to clear prioritisation of those in greatest need.”

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