Creating leaders in mental health

The National Mental Health Commission is an Australian government executive agency which was established to ensure that mental health and wellbeing is consistently on the national agenda.


Operational since 2012, the National Mental Health Commission provides independent reports to community and government on what is and isn’t working in the mental health sector. This includes ongoing monitoring and reporting on mental health service function and outcomes, as well as analysis and advice on a vast range of current issues and policy as they relate to mental health.

What’s distinctive about the Commission is that it has a mandate to drive change at a national level. By leading, advising, collaborating and reporting, the commission helps transform systems and promote policy advancement, so that all Australians can lead a contributing life.

In 2014, a review by the Commission highlighted the need to develop future leaders in mental health, in particular in regional, rural and remote Australia. It also identified the need to work with leaders in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professional workforce and to develop the mental health peer work force nationally.

To address this, the Commission has developed the Australian Mental Health Leaders Fellowship, the first program of its kind in Australia. The Fellowship is aimed at individuals who have demonstrated potential for leadership and commitment to improving mental health outcomes in the Australian community.

In 2018, the Commission will offer 40 funded places to successful applicants drawn from a broad range of sectors including the emergency services, health care and social workers, researchers and educators, clinicians, consumers and carers.

Australian Mental Health Leaders Fellowship


There are many generic leadership programs designed for health professionals at varying levels and alternative programs that support new mental health workers. However, there are few, or no current national programs for emerging leaders, including consumers and carers, which cater to the dual elements of mental health and leadership development.

The Australian Mental Health Leaders Fellowship was developed to address this gap in skills and knowledge, with a program that incorporates experiential learning, reflective practice and group activity. Such requirements could not be met by an ‘off-the-shelf’ product, so the Commission engaged the University of Melbourne to deliver a custom education solution, based on robust academic research with tested and validated teaching methods.

The University of Melbourne will facilitate the overall development of the Fellowship and provide ongoing guidance for delivery and evaluation.

The Australian Mental Health Leaders Fellowship is the first of its kind in Australia. Its development demanded personnel with currency across leadership practices and principles and mental health, underpinned by academic rigour - the University of Melbourne delivered on all counts. Maureen Lewis, Deputy CEO, National Mental Health Commission


Over a period of six months, the University project team worked closely with internal and external subject matter experts alongside the Commission. Together, we designed and shaped the Fellowship. The custom program design comprises:

  • Two residential learning modules
  • Leadership assessment tools
  • Group projects to develop leadership skills and thinking
  • Experiential placements held in mental health organisations across Australia
  • A mentoring program.

An important aspect of the University methodology was evidence-based material based on research in health leadership and organisational culture. We also incorporated lessons learned from international high-performing health services. The program design and content were refined through an ongoing development process, with expert advice from academics Professor Danny Samson (Business and Economics), Professor Jill Klein (Medical School and Business School), and Professor Rob Moodie (Population and Global Health), as well as input from the Commission and the Commission’s Advisory Group. The University has also engaged high-profile industry partnerships to deliver elements of the program, such as the Australasian College of Health Services management, who will be providing the mentoring component of the program.


The Australian Mental Health Leaders Fellowship will be a prestigious, high-profile national leadership program that brings together emerging leaders from across Australia. The first cohort of 20 participants are due to commence in July 2018, with a second cohort to follow in October 2018.

In the long term, the Commission’s aim is to create a network of future leaders with the skills and confidence to tackle contemporary mental health challenges in the Australian community. Alumni of the Fellowship will be a highly engaged group, with capacity for innovation and reform as well as self-reflection and personal growth.

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