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Commissioner Professor Helen Milroy named 2021 Australian of the Year

25 Jan 2021
The National Mental Health Commission congratulates Commissioner Professor Helen Milroy on being named 2021 Australian of the Year.

The Prime Minister, The Hon Scott Morrison MP, presented Professor Milroy with the prestigious award at a live telecast ceremony at the National Arboretum in Canberra this evening, recognising her significant advocacy for the mental health needs of First Peoples and children, especially those who have been impacted by social, cultural and systemic trauma.

Helen Milroy is a pioneering woman who has forged a successful career defined by many firsts and high profile appointments. Notably she was Australia’s first Indigenous medical doctor and the first Indigenous commissioner appointed to the Australian Football League, She was also appointed as a commissioner to the Australian Government's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and is a Director on the Beyond Blue board. 

The Commission’s Chair, Mrs Lucy Brogden AM, said we are pleased to see Professor Milroy acknowledged for her tireless work in mental health. It is especially poignant at this significant period of mental health reform in Australia.

“All Australians will be proud of Professor Milroy as they come to appreciate the lifelong commitment she has had to the wellbeing of children and young people. She is an inspiring woman contributing to important work in Indigenous, children and adolescent health and mental health care. For more than 25 years, she has pioneered research, education and training in Aboriginal and child mental health, and recovery from grief and trauma.”

Professor Milroy’s career long focus on the potential of young people is evident through her recent contributions to Australia’s inaugural National Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy, which is currently open for public consultation by the Commission, closing on the 15th February.

Commission CEO, Christine Morgan, acknowledges Professor Milroy’s relentless commitment to understanding and improving the services available for children experiencing mental health issues, and the possible lifelong impacts of the circumstances they are born into.

Her passion is to increase the understanding of the gravity of the impact of trauma on the mental health of children and translate that into genuine reform. Her invaluable expertise and experience is critical to the reform process. Prevention and understanding is key to creating a comprehensive mental health system for all children. Helen also provides ongoing insights on Indigenous perspective and needs acts all the work of the Commission.

Aligned with the Commission, Professor Milroy’s view is that more work and investment into children’s health is critical, and cannot be left to when a child is in distress or traumatised.

“I felt very honoured, proud and humbled to have received this award. I hope that it will further highlight my work in this important area,” Dr Milroy said of her win.

“Everyone talks about the fact most mental health problems start in childhood and yet we don’t resource childhood; we resource youth and adult mental health services when it’s already well and truly down the track,” said Professor Milroy.

“I don’t want to sit in my office and wait for kids to be sick before they come see me. I want to be able to put my expertise and experience upfront to highlight ways to provide a more comprehensive well buffered service where kids actually get the expertise up front.

“Let’s get in early, look after the kids early and I believe if we invest in the kids today we will have a very successful nation in the future.”  

The Commission continues to value Professor Milroy’s significant contribution in shaping the future of mental health care for Australia’s youth.