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Govt appoints three part-time Mental Health Commissioners

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The State Government has appointed three new, part-time commissioners to lead the Mental Health Commission as it is absorbed into the newly established Wellbeing SA.

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South Australia’s new mental health commissioners are Sharon Lawn, a professor at Flinders University’s College of Medicine and Public Health, Heather Nowak, a mental health advocate and lecturer at TAFE SA, and mental health and wellbeing project manager David Kelly.

They replace Chris Burns, who is now chief executive of homelessness service the Hutt Street Centre.

The commissioners will lead the implementation of the state’s Mental Health Services Plan and Mental Health Strategic Plan, which set out ambitions for high quality, safe, personalised mental health services.

The Government had, earlier this year, planned to scrap the Commission altogether, with its functions to be divided between the Office of the Chief Psychiatrist and Wellbeing SA – a new agency within SA Health that will be responsible for leading the Government’s preventative health and health promotion activities.

But in July, the government announced it would instead expand the Mental Health Commission by appointing one full-time commissioner and two part-time deputy commissioners.

Under the three-commissioners model unveiled today, InDaily understands, two of the commissioners will work just under 12 hours a week and one of them will work 19 hours a week.

It’s not clear who will work the longer hours.

A Government spokesperson said the three will be paid a combined $300,000 annually, up from the $240,000 paid to Burns as a full-time commissioner.

The Mental Health Commission office will be physically based within the Wellbeing SA office, although the Government says it will remain independent of SA Health and report directly to the Minister.

Wade told InDaily in a statement today that the appointment of three commissioners “will strengthen the Commission by broadening its skill set and strengthen the voice of lived experience –  consumers, carers or peer workers”. 

“The commissioners will work in partnership with people with lived experience of mental illness and their families and carers to promote whole-of-government and whole-of-community strategies to support the mental health and wellbeing of the South Australian community.”

Lawn has worked in the mental health sector for 34 years as a clinician, researcher and educator and has lived experience with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Nowak is a lecturer in mental health peer work, an applied suicide intervention skills trainer and assessor and a member of the National Mental Health Commission Peer Workforce Development Guidelines Steering Committee. She also has lived experience with mental health and formerly as on the SA Mental Health Commission Community Advisory Committee.

Kelly leads a trauma-informed wellbeing program for people who have disengaged from education, people who are homeless and refugees.

He is a former senior manager with the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute’s Wellbeing and Resilience Centre.

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