Karen Burns
Deputy Commissioner

As a leader with exceptionally wide experience, Karen Burns brings technical knowledge and cultural understanding of the community-managed mental health sector to her role as Deputy Commissioner at a time of unprecedented system change.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme, and the devolution of some Commonwealth mental health planning and funding to regional Primary Health Networks, have caused enormous disruption to the funding and external relationships of the community mental health sector.

“It’s about positioning the Commission to provide the right sort of support that will let the non-government organisations flourish,” says Ms Burns, who is the CEO of UnitingRecovery. “There is great opportunity to optimise the way we operate to be much more responsive to local needs.”

She is also interested in developing leadership and business skills among NGO executives to help them respond to the more entrepreneurial operating environment resulting from the system changes.

But she also cautions that we must make efforts to sustain and protect small, highly specialised organisations, and they will need support to ensure the community does not lose their valuable work.

With professional qualifications in nursing and psychology , Ms Burns has worked in adult and adolescent mental health, drug and alcohol and tele-health services across the government, private  and community-managed sectors. She was motivated to work in mental health by her childhood experience of seeing her family inclusively support a relative with a severe and persistent mental illness, and believes strongly in, “diversity and difference in regard to how people choose to live their lives and how they engage with their experience of the world.”

Ms Burns was Chair of the Commission’s Community Advisory Council from 2013- 2016. She was also recently Chair of the Mental Health Coordinating Council, the NSW peak for community-managed organisations working in mental health.

Ms Burn's appointment as Deputy Commissioner is from December 2016 until November 2018.

Highlights for 2016-17:

"This year has seen a number of highlights, with a focus on mental health in the workplace. I was able to engage with a number of corporate organisations with positive and practical mental health and wellbeing strategies. These include assessing overall physical and psychological health, and supporting parents to flourish not only as productive and contributing employees, but as people with a balanced family and work life.
I was delighted to learn of the role that Karitane is playing in providing onsite support and resources to employees.

I took part in the Commission's community visit to Orange, meeting with clinicians and allied health staff, consumers and families and carers and a diverse spectrum of service providers and organisations. It was encouraging to understand the active role that the local Council was playing in supporting not only local service providers, but also by modelling good citizenship in supporting community members who were experiencing vulnerable times. It was also wonderful to observe people living with mental illness being supported to transition from long term care within traditional inpatient services to community living in Orange."

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Last updated: 12 October 2017