Presenters & Abstracts, 2018 MHIS

Confirmed Speakers - Check back for regular updates

Scientia Professor Helen Christensen
Director and Chief Scientist at the Black Dog Institute & Professor of Mental Health at UNSW

Scientia Professor Helen Christensen is Director and Chief Scientist at the Black Dog Institute and a Professor of Mental Health at UNSW. She is one of only two National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) John Cade Research Fellows and Chief Investigator for the NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence in Suicide Prevention (CRESP).

Professor Christensen is an international leader in the use of technology to deliver evidence-based psychological therapies to communities and individuals who suffer from anxiety or depression, or who are at risk of suicide. Professor Christensen leads the Digital Dog team that is investigating novel methods for detecting mental health risk via social media, and developing novel interventions for mental health treatment. The Digital Dog team focuses on interventions to target depression, suicide risk and to enhance wellbeing.

Professor Christensen also leads the LifeSpan trial that will investigate a novel systems approach to suicide prevention in NSW. This trial aims to reduce the number of suicide deaths by 21% and the number of suicide attempts by 30%.

Professor Christensen's research also encompasses prevention of mental health problems in young people through school-based research programs. These programs are aimed at prevention of depression and suicide risk through eMental Health interventions. Professor Christensen has recently published the novel approach to preventing the onset of depression through targeting insomnia with the SHUTi program.

Preventing Depression in Young People in Schools

Dr Orli Schwartz is a clinical psychologist and research fellow at the University of Melbourne, with a specialisation in child and adolescent mental health. She is involved in a number of research projects examining risk and protective factors in child and adolescent development, such as the family environment, brain development, and sleeping difficulties. She is particularly interested in examining how these factors interact to influence vulnerability and resilience to depression and other mental health problems across development. Dr Schwartz also works clinically in private practice, where she specializes in the assessment and treatment of children, adolescents and their families.

Adolescent Sleep and Mental Health: Lessons for Schools from the SENSE (Sleep and Education: learning New Skills Early) Study.

Recent reports highlight an ‘epidemic’ of sleep deprivation in adolescence, and evidence suggests that poor sleep increases risk for mental health difficulties. The SENSE Study is a randomised control trial investing the impact of a sleep-improvement program on adolescent mental health. The 7-week group program draws on techniques including sleep hygiene education, stimulus control, mindfulness, and cognitive behavioural therapy. Adolescents who completed the sleep improvement group demonstrated fewer anxiety symptoms and behavioural problems, better overall sleep quality, less daytime sleepiness, and the ability to fall asleep more quickly than adolescents who received a matched control intervention. This presentation will highlight some of the common barriers to sleep that many adolescents experience, with a focus on practical approaches schools can take to improve their students’ sleep and mental health.


Rachael Parker is the founder of Ocean Mind and a Youth Worker with over 10 years’ experience working with children and young people. She holds a Bachelor of Arts (Youth Work), Certificate IV in Alcohol and other Drugs, Mental Health First Aid and Surf Coaching. Rachael is experienced in programme implementation and management, project design, youth work, rolling out evidence based and innovative programs including staff training.

Rachael is passionate about using the outdoor environments to create positive experiences and opportunities for young people to grow and prosper. Since discovering surfing in 2015, she’s combined her passion for the ocean and working with young people to create Ocean Mind. She loves nothing more than sharing her love of the ocean with young people and teaching them to find the stoke in the surf and their lives.

Richy Bennett is a pioneering consultant, mentor and keynote speaker in Performance Psychology. He was the first psychologist to work globally on the World Surf League, authored the seminal book “The Surfer's Mind” and has enjoyed several senior roles within Australian Olympic, Paralympic and Commonwealth Games teams. In addition Richy has consulted widely in community, indigenous and youth mental health services including headspace Geelong and lectured in early childhood development at Victoria University.

Richy loves bringing nature to nurture. His unique approach blends high performance psychology with mindful, heartful play in nature to cultivate wellbeing, harmony and potential. Based in Jan Juc, Victoria, Richy consults locally and globally in a range of performance domains, including sport, performing arts, extreme/adventure pursuits, emergency/military services, corporate, healthcare, family and education.

Ocean Mind – Changing lives through surfing
Ocean Mind is a not for profit organisation providing surfing activities and support for young people aged 8-18 who may be at risk or experiencing challenges with mental health, social isolation or disability.

In 2016 Ocean Mind piloted our first Surf Mentor Program on Victoria’s Surf Coast. Using the simple recipe of Surf + Fun + Friendship, the program connects young people with a volunteer Surf Mentor who works with them 1:1 in the waves and on the beach for 6 

weeks. The pilot was highly successful and through ongoing delivery and refinement in 2017, Ocean Mind evolved the program to also include preventative and early intervention strategies for students at risk of disengaging from school in the transition period between primary and secondary school. This new Surf Mentor Program is being piloted at St Thomas Aquinas School in 2018.

Rachael Parker, founder of Ocean Mind and Richy Bennett, Surf Psychology pioneer and author of “The Surfer’s Mind”, will share how Ocean Mind’s simple recipe of Surf + Fun + Friendship is guiding healthy personal, social and educational development for participants, along with benefits for mentors and the broader community, and the latest update on the 2018 Surf Mentor School Program.


Associate Professor Craig Hassed works at the Department of General Practice and is coordinator of mindfulness programs at Monash University. His teaching, research and clinical interests include mindfulness-based stress management, mind-body medicine, meditation, health promotion, integrative medicine and medical ethics. Craig is regularly invited to speak and run courses in Australia and overseas in health, professional and educational contexts and has collaborated with a number of national and international universities helping them to integrate similar content. He was the founding president of the Australian Teachers of Meditation Association and is a regular media commentator. He writes regularly for medical journals and has published thirteen books;

  • “New Frontiers in Medicine” (Volumes 1 and 2)
  • “Know Thyself” on mindfulness-based stress management
  • “The Essence of Health” on the lifestyle approach to health and chronic illness
  • A textbook co-authored with Kerryn Phelps, “General Practice: the integrative approach”
  • A book written with Stephen McKenzie, “Mindfulness for Life”
  • A book written with Richard Chambers, “Mindful Learning” on the role of mindfulness in education
  • "Playing the genetic hand life dealt you" on epigenetics
  • "The Mindful Home", written with Deirdre Hassed
  • A book written with Patricia Dobkin, “Mindful Medical Practitioners” on the role of mindfulness in medical education
  • “Illuminating Wisdom”, a book of calligraphic art written with Deirdre Hassed
  • “The Freedom Trap” exploring different perspectives on freedom

Craig also featured in the documentary, The Connection and wrote the companion e-book, “The Mindfulness Manual” and co-authored with Richard Chambers the free online Mindfulness course in collaboration with Monash University and FutureLearn.

Mindfulness - the hype, the hopes and the fears

The growth in interest and uptake of mindfulness in recent years has been nothing short of extraordinary. This has been on the back of an exponential rise in the amount of research on mindfulness' applications in a range of areas including mental and physical health, education, neuroscience, epigenetics and performance. Amongst all the promise there have also been some questions and concerns raised about the safety and effectiveness of mindfulness-based interventions. This keynote address will explore the foundations and rationale for mindfulness as well as respond to the main questions and concerns raised. Key issues addressed will be the need for effective training of mindfulness teachers, adapting content to fit the purpose, and successfully integrating mindfulness curriculum.

Dr Shannon Morton is a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist with a special interest in treating young people who naturally exist outside the usual boxes, and prefer to colour outside the lines. She is the Clinical Director of the “The Kooky Kid Clinic”, a multidisciplinary clinic with a difference in Brisbane, where humour and holistic, expressive therapies are used to celebrate differences, reframe medical symptoms and sufferings, and challenge stigmatizing stereotypes head on. She has previously worked in a Prison Mental Health Service, and spent many years working in a low socio-economic area, with a large number of children with externalizing disorders in her practice.

She has special interests in working with young people with Tourette Syndrome and associated challenges, those suffering from self harm, or those with unconventional tendencies that push institutional boundaries. She has assisted in research data collection for Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) treatment of severe Tourette Syndrome, and was one of the youngest speakers invited to present at the World Congress of Biological Psychiatry in Paris, on the topic of refractory Tourette Syndrome in Adolescents. She has also acted as a medical advisor for the SBS Documentary “The Silent Epidemic” on the science of self injury, having worked with world experts on mirror neurons at the La Sapienza University in Rome during her research project on emotional mirror neurons, attachment, and self harm. She currently runs “The Healing Circle”, a self harm recovery group for teens, and “Bubble and Squeak”, a Tourette Syndrome support group.

For those lucky enough to have seen Shannon speak in the past, you know that she is an entirely unique speaker and practitioner - you don't want to miss her latest presentation at the 2018 MHIS Conference. 

"Let's Get Kooky!", A Divergent Thinking MasterclassInvivo Exposure to Creative Approaches to Teaching and Learning to "robot-proof" the next generation, and make your classroom more fun and engaged, with resident oddball Dr Shannon Morton. This will be an experiential workshop where we will explore what divergent thinking means, and how we can encourage openness to new experience, preparedness to share new ideas without fears of failure, and nurture wonder, curiosity, grit, and resilience. I will be demonstrating divergent teaching methods to teach about divergent thinking! It will be provocative and highly interactive. Think brainstorming about brainstorming with the audience literally throwing ideas around with paper aeroplanes to build on each other's ideas about creative ways to keep creativity alive! I will bring props and run the show like an orchestra, trying to get the right "light and shade" of content, process, depth, and breadth, as an example of how to incorporate divergent thinking strategies within the constraints of the curriculum.. Basically, an hour of creative parallel processing about creativity, until we all feel like pretzels!!

Alex Shain is the General Manager of Narragunnawali: Reconciliation in Schools and Early Learning.

He trained as a primary school teacher and has taught in many different school settings, beginning his career in far western NSW and most recently teaching in inner city Sydney. In 2012, Alex joined Reconciliation Australia to design Narragunnawali and he reckons it’s the best teaching job in the country.

Alex firmly believes that without those who have come before, we wouldn’t be able to have the conversations we are having today. The work of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous Australians has laid the foundation for the next generation to move forward together.

Narragunnawali: Reconciliation in Schools
Narragunnawali is designed to support all schools and early learning services in Australia to develop environments that foster a higher level of knowledge and pride in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, cultures and contributions.

Two key dimensions of reconciliation are race relations and historical acceptance. Racial discrimination and the ongoing impacts of intergenerational trauma are key drivers of poor mental health among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Building strengths-based relationships based on mutual respect and trust, and engaging young people in truth telling about our history, can play a powerful role in reconciliation and healing processes. Narragunnawali aims to create a community of positive and engaged schools and early learning services that are committed to promoting reconciliation between the wider Australian community and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Xris Reardon is the current LGBTI Schools Inclusion Officer at WIO. Xris works includes primary, secondary, and colleges contexts. Prior to this role Xris was working at the Safe Schools Project Officer (also across the state of Tassie). Xris has a background in Narrative Therapy and Community Work, Community Cultural Development and is also a Community Theatre Practitioner. Their pronouns are they/them.

Affirmation Plans - on the same page
At Working It Out (Tasmania’s gender, sexuality, and intersex status support and education service) we have developed Affirmation Plans involving the student and their family, the school leadership team, and relevant teachers. Affirmation plans aim at creating an understanding that parties agree too in order to to support and ensure the cultural safety of individual students who are socially transitioning in our schools.

In the context of our work in primary, high schools and colleges in Tasmania the Affirmation Plan template is both a dialogical tool and an assurance mechanism to safeguard students, and the school community, building a knowledge base for all ‘stakeholders’. Affirmation plans focus on expressed needs of an individual student and their family. This work starts with the student and a member of the support staff, or a parent and member of the support staff.

The whole of school approach includes Professional Learning for staff and access to Community education, and the establishment of Diversity Groups for students. These critical steps support everyone to access information, a feeling confident to ensure that diversity of gender, sexuality and bodily status is valued and visible and in doing so we are addressing bullying and we can celebrate difference.

Dr Rebecca-Lee Kuhnert completed her undergraduate and postgraduate studies at the University of Sydney. Her PhD examined the factors that contribute to boys’ and girls’ peer relations in middle childhood. She currently works at the Black Dog Institute, co-leading the research and implementation of the school mental health program YAM as part of the LifeSpan suicide prevention trial.

Lyndal Halliday has extensive experience in research and project management across a range of fields. She currently co-leads the implementation of YAM, an evidence-based schools suicide prevention program to over 13,000 students enrolled in public, independent, and Catholic high schools in NSW as part of the LifeSpan systems approach to suicide prevention. She also leads the expansion of YAM to schools in Commonwealth suicide prevention sites, as well as developing tools and consultation processes for the adaptation of the LifeSpan framework for priority populations.

Rachel Green is the Director of LifeSpan, the Black Dog Institute’s large-scale suicide prevention framework, currently being implemented in NSW and regions around Australia. Her professional expertise includes mental health policy and program development with the Department of Health and Ageing and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, establishment of the National Mental Health Commission, as well as production of the first annual National Report Card on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention and design of the Contributing Life Framework.

Youth Aware of Mental Health (YAM)  
Schools are bombarded with programs aimed at increasing student wellbeing and mental health outcomes, however it can be difficult to decipher whether a program is evidence based or informed, and whether it is even safe for students. This presentation explores the evidence base for suicide prevention programs in schools and closely examines the implementation of the Youth Aware or Mental Health (YAM) program as part of the LifeSpan Systems Approach research trials in NSW, highlighting key barriers and successes to date. It will also explore the importance of implementation science processes in translating evidence in to practice. 

Dr Despina Ganella (Melbourne Conference Only) is a postdoctoral research fellow in the Developmental Psychobiology laboratory at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health. Her main research interest is developmental anxiety, with a focus on adolescents. Her work involves a rare combination of the use of preclinical rodent models of anxiety with human neuroimaging research.

In addition to this, Dr Ganella is an active science communicator, and works towards increasing awareness of mental health research through media and community outreach work. She regularly visits schools to educate the public about neuroscience and mental health. She is also passionate about equality and diversity in science and serves on the Equality in Science Committee.

Luke Barry-Donnellan completed a Bachelor of Exercise Science in 2012 and a Graduate Diploma of Education in 2014 at the Australian Catholic University (ACU). He is currently employed as a Personal Development/Health/ Physical Education teacher at Parramatta Marist High School. Luke has taken on various coaching and leadership roles in school sporting teams for many years and has given his time to holiday camps for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. In his two years of teaching, Luke has developed a keen interest in the area of mental health and wellbeing of teenage boys.

Recently Luke launched a project for his Year 9 students entitled 'Man Up' (based on Gus Worland's award winning 3 part documentary series of the same title). Being an advocate for project based learning, he used this innovative pedagogy as a vehicle to create a more authentic and relatable experience for his students. Going into 2018 and beyond, he hopes that with greater awareness and an ever growing support network, we can change the perceptions on masculinity and decrease the alarming suicide rates of young men.

Man Up – A School Based Mental Health Initiative

The NSW Personal Development/ Health/Physical Education (PDHPE) curriculum covers content on mental health awareness in stage 5. This presentation aims to highlight the innovative ways in which teachers can deliver this mental health content in a relevant and contextual way for their students.

At Parramatta Marist High School, teachers are encouraged to provide authentic learning experiences as per the guidelines of Project Based Learning (PBL) which has been implemented into the school since 2008. In 2017, the school ran a PDHPE project for year 9 students entitled "Man Up" (based on Gus Worland's 2016, 3 part documentary series of the same name). While the aim of this project was to deliver the mental health content from the syllabus, students were encouraged to communicate more openly with their peers and begin to challenge the notion of being "masculine" in an all boy high school setting. This project incorporated project based learning opportunities, "Tomorrow Man" masculinity workshops and a school visit from Gus Worland to help reiterate the purpose of the project to the students.

During the presentation, participants will have the opportunity to collaborate with myself and other educators on mental health awareness initiatives they may wish to implement into their programs.

Dr Danielle Einstein is an Honorary Associate with Macquarie University and the University of Sydney. Danielle has collaborated on the development of four secondary school prevention programs (Keep Composed, Chilled@School, The Insights program, and the Emotional Intelligence in Schools program), two internet treatment programs (ChilledPlus for comorbid anxiety and depression, and the Climate Social Phobia program), and developed a therapist-led treatment for superstition-dominated OCD. Danielle's research program focuses on changing community responses to both uncertainty and perfectionism. Danielle leads secondary school programs that promote balanced use of phones and social media, healthy body image, and the development of self-compassion. Danielle’s research is at the forefront of psychological thinking around management of uncertainty. She works closely with secondary school teachers and university academics across Australia to develop and evaluate the effectiveness of social and emotional learning programs.

What does it take to develop evidence-based wellbeing programs for secondary schools?

There are a multitude of possible factors to target when delivering social and emotional learning programs within secondary schools. With the World Health Organisation increasingly concerned about levels of anxiety and depression, our community needs to consider how to address underlying issues that contribute to elevated symptoms whilst maintaining student engagement. This presentation will i) explore factors to prioritise; ii) provide an overview of issues that arise in the implementation of teacher led programs and iii) examine the question of ‘what works in practice’.

Sandra Jelley is a registered psychologist and teacher who has worked in the education sector for over thirty years, both domestically and internationally. She spent fifteen years as an educator in Australia and Singapore, including more than a decade in key leadership positions involving extensive curriculum development, procedural reviews, promotion and implementation of large-scale school change, and leading staff teams.

Sandra then pursued a career path as a school psychologist, completing post-graduate studies in Psychology with first class honours, and gaining registration as a Psychologist with AHPRA. She has been a school counsellor/psychologist, as part of the Wellbeing Team of Sacred Heart College, for the past 14 years, where she has been an integral part of driving wellbeing policy and procedures, presenting regularly to staff, students and parents on a range of mental health issues and developing a number of curriculum programs to support student wellbeing. Sandra also supervises other school counsellors.

In 2010 Sandra joined Propsych as a Senior Consultant and has been instrumental in developing relevant, empirically based, topical mental health workshops, programs and conferences that are responsive to school needs and specific to school staff. Sandra features prominently as the dynamic MC at Propsych’s flagship conferences, returning once again for the 2018 Mental Health in Schools Conference.