Private mental health patient advocate wins top honour

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Janne McMahon has been announced as the joint winner of the 2018 Australian Mental Health Prize.

Janne, who was awarded the prize alongside Emeritus Professor Gavin Andrews, said she was “simply thrilled”.

“I am honoured and delighted to be a winner in this year’s Australian Mental Health Prize,” she said.

“I have struggled with mental illness all my adult life but mental illness does not define me. These days, I am too busy to become unwell, there is too much to do.”

Janne is the founder and Executive Officer of the Private Mental Health Consumer Carer Network (Australia), the peak Australian advocacy organisation for the private sector.

She has appeared before 10 parliamentary inquiries and has been a member of numerous expert reference groups, committees and working groups.

She has been the driver of the development of the Practical Guide for Working with Carers of People with a Mental Illness and associated resources.

“I am passionate about lived experience advocacy,” Janne said.

“It has its challenges, and at times, it has been hard work. But to be recognised in this way is very humbling.

“It is a very great privilege.”

Janne has also been instrumental in improving understanding and awareness of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) in Australia.

She has led the BPD National Training Strategy and lobbied politicians for the funding and establishment of the South Australian BPD Centre of Excellence where she is a member of the Executive Steering Committee.

Janne has also worked with the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatry to develop a consumer and carer guide for BPD.

“Borderline Personality Disorder is a complex and serious mental illness that is often misunderstood,” she said.

“People experience significant distress and impairment with this illness including emotional pain, self-harm, and difficulty relating to others.

“People with this disorder are frequently discriminated against and stigmatised.

“The good news story is that recovery is possible if people are able to access good care and support.”

Joint award winner Gavin Andrews has had a fundamental impact on the way mental disorders are diagnosed and treated in Australia and around the world today.

Officially retiring earlier this year from his role as Professor of Psychiatry at UNSW Sydney after 60 years of dedication to mental health, he is among the world’s most highly cited scientists in this field.

Gavin’s research interests began with stuttering and extended to depression, epidemiology and treatment and classification of common mental disorders.

He is responsible for preparing the first ever set of clinical practice guidelines in psychiatry and the first National Survey of Mental Disorders which helped to quantify the breadth and scope of mental illness in Australia.

Gavin also pioneered online treatment courses, called THISWAYUP, for a range of issues including panic, depression, social phobia and generalised anxiety disorder.

“I believe the majority of people who develop a mental disorder today can be cured. Essentially, they will be able to say ‘That’s not a part of my life anymore’,” he said.

“If you’re not improving after 30 days, ask ‘Why?’. Cure is possible, and we as clinicians, patients and their families must pursue it energetically.”

Australian Mental Health Prize advisory group chairwoman, Ita Buttrose, said Janne and Gavin were chosen out of an exceptionally strong field of six finalists.

“The breadth of experience and dedication of this year’s six finalists is truly awe-inspiring,” she said.

“Their tireless pursuit for better outcomes for people living with mental illness deserves to be truly commended and that is exactly why the prize was established.

“We need to shine a light on positive work in this field and encourage more focus, investment, research, education and understanding.”

The Prize is awarded annually to an Australian who has made outstanding contributions to either the promotion of mental health, or the prevention/treatment of mental illness – in areas such as advocacy, research or service provision.

It recognises contributions undertaken in Australia that are of national significance.

Read more: Helping people ‘gave me a reason to stay alive’

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