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Australian Mental Health Prize Ceremony [virtual event]


I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.

Linda and I are delighted to be with you for this Australian Mental Health Prize ceremony – whether you are, like us, participating online or among the audience in the UNSW Sydney Clancy Auditorium.

The Australian Mental Health Prize is now into its fifth year. This prize recognises outstanding achievement in mental health and serves as an incentive to improve outcomes for people with mental illness. It also helps raise awareness in the community of the importance of mental health.

Mental illness is common in our society. One in three Australians will have a mental illness in their lifetime.

‘Mental health’ has been part of the national conversation this year. The year has been challenging to say the least and many Australians have at times been overwhelmed.

Linda and I have been privileged to meet many of these people through our visits program. These interactions can often be confronting. The pain they are experiencing is evident and they need help, but we see a strong resolve in these people to press on.

I could be criticised for seeing Australia through rose-coloured glasses. I understand why people might have that view but I, respectfully, reject it outright. Why? Because every day Linda and I see evidence of Australia at its best and evidence of Australian capability. We have met thousands of Australians over the past 17 months and witnessed firsthand the amazing work being done in our communities to help people in need. It’s inspiring and it’s reassuring. And I think Australians need to hear more of these uplifting stories.

Now more than ever it is imperative that we talk up this success and capability. ‘Belief’ is infectious and will go a long way to helping our nation prosper in a post-COVID-19 world. ‘Belief’ alone isn’t the silver bullet — nothing is. Help, care and compassion are also needed.

I realise the Media has a job to do and to quote John Williamson "Good news never made a paper sell”, but I think it’s very important that Australians — young Australians especially — get the message that, yes, times are tough but opportunities will open up and there is every reason to be optimistic about our future. To that end, context is critical.

Our nation has taken a huge hit. The impacts in Australia from the fires and the pandemic run deep and will be long-lasting. But, as I say, the feedback from community leaders and representatives on the ground — Mayors, Council representatives, health professionals, Emergency Services personnel and the like — is that significant progress is being made and that our communities are strong.

These discussions invariably turn to matters relating to government policy, programing and funding … I’ll leave that to others! What is crystal clear, though, is that Australia has the ability to overcome adversity.

Linda and I want to thank all of you, especially the seven finalists, for the critically important work you are doing in the field of mental health. Your expertise and compassion in treating people with mental illness and your capacity to provide them with reassurance is of utmost importance. The work you are doing will be key to ensuring the health and wellbeing of Australians in the years ahead.

Thank you.