John Feneley - NSW Mental Health Commissioner 2012-2017

John Feneley was the inaugural NSW Mental Health Commissioner from August 2012 – August 2017.

Mr Feneley led the Commission’s development of Living Well: A Strategic Plan for Mental Health in NSW 2014-2024, adopted by the NSW Government in December 2014. He also oversaw creation of the accompanying report Living Well: Putting people at the centre of mental health reform in NSW.

Major projects undertaken by the Commission during Mr Feneley’s tenure included the development of the proposed Suicide Prevention Framework for NSW; development of a mental health and wellbeing strategy for first responders in NSW; an investigation of people’s experiences of medications for mental illness and how they could be improved; and a report for NSW Government on how to alter the trajectory of individuals with a mental illness or cognitive impairment away from the criminal justice system.

Mr Feneley also led the Commission’s monitoring of the progress of mental health reform, most notably via the publication of One Year On, which detailed progress made during Living Well’s first 12 months of implementation. 

A qualified lawyer, Mr Feneley was particularly passionate about breaking the cycle of disadvantage and discrimination that saw people with mental illness repeatedly returning to the criminal justice system, their mental health needs unaddressed. He brought to the Commission family experience of long-term mental illness, having witnessed a relation struggle for many years to find adequate support.

Mr Feneley reflected on his time as Commissioner in a farewell letter published at the end of his term. Read John Feneley's farewell letter.

Bradley Foxlewin - Deputy Commissioner 2013-2016

Bradley Foxlewin served two terms as Deputy Commissioner from March 2013 to November 2016. An independent mental health consumer consultant, Bradley now works as a trainer, group-worker, consultant and researcher, all from a consumer-first position. He is also a member of the Mental Health Co-ordinating Council.

While at the Commission, Bradley was a passionate advocate for the rights and wellbeing of people who experience mental illness. A particular focus was championing trauma-informed recovery practice, and effectively challenged particularly the use of seclusion and restraint in mental health treatment.

Before coming to the Commission, he chaired the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Mental Health Consumer Network and worked for 20 years improving services for young men who survived sexual abuse as children. He has advocated strongly against seclusion and restraint in support of better outcomes for people with mental illness, describing the practices as re-traumatising.

Bradley's extensive qualifications include MAppSc (Social Ecology- Major: Organisational Change), Cert. IV in TAFE, Dip: Community Studies (Welfare) with Honours, Dip: Community Services (Mental Health).

Professor Alan Rosen AO - Deputy Commissioner 2013-2015

Professor Alan Rosen was one of the first Deputy Commissioners to be appointed and advocated for the establishment of the Mental Health Commission of New South Wales.

In his nearly 30 years as consultant psychiatrist, director and clinical director of the Royal North Shore Hospital and Community Mental Health Services, Professor Alan Rosen has focused on the shift of the centre of gravity of mental health services from hospital- to community-centered, integrating community and hospital services, while involving consumers and families directly in their management.

Professor Rosen’s strong partnerships with other clinical disciplines and community agencies, as well as his involvement in research, helped shift the thinking towards a model based on people’s home and community, supported by effective 24-hour service, with hospital care only when really necessary.

He was also involved in research into early intervention in psychosis which contributed to reforms in NSW and the National Mental Health Strategy, leading to the replacement of institutions with community mental health teams, community-based respite residential alternatives to local inpatient facilities, supported by local general health facilities. 

Fay Jackson - Deputy Commissioner 2013-2018

As Deputy Commisisoner Fay had the opportunity to address several conferences, including the International Initiative for Mental Health Leadership (IIMHL) Exchange where she spoke on the role or trauma in the development of mental health issues, and the re-traumatising effect of seclusion and restraint, calling for leadership on both issues. Then, at the Council of Australian Tribunals (COAT) conference, Fay spoke with judges, lawyers and academics about the need to “pull down the professional barriers” so that attendees could share their trauma experiences and interact with others on a human level.

Fay was interviewed by ABC TV to discuss how a diagnosis does not define you, how peer work can support recovery, and her love for her family. The overwhelming response from viewers of the interview galvanised Fay to continue her work in mental health reform as there was still much work to be done. Ms Jackson’s focuses on the positive attributes of people with mental health issues, from work to family life, passionately creating a better mental health system for generations to come. 

Fay has lived experience of mental health issues, having been diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 37. Early medical advice stated she would no longer be able to work, and she would have limited ability to contribute to the lives of those around her. Devastated by this news, and following the passing of a family member, Ms Jackson become a champion for people with mental health issues and soon became a mental health advocate, the General Manager of Inclusion at Flourish and CEO of her own company - Vision in Mind.

Dr Robyn Shields AM - Deputy Commissioner 2013-2018

Dr Shields’ mental health career has concentrated on raising the status of people experiencing mental illness in the public consciousness. She has encouraged communication on trauma-informed care and recovery, and she is passionate about developing new models of care for mentally ill people within the most disadvantaged groups; particularly Aboriginal people and forensic patients.

While at the Commission, Dr Shields was passionate about breaking the cycles and patterns of dysfunction in the mental health system. She worked with local organisations to ensure culturally appropriate evidence was provided in court matters, and that individuals has access to culturally-relevant mental health support – both in the community and when detained.

During her time as Deputy Commissioner, Dr Shields was appointed to the NSW Government’s seclusions, restraint and coercive practices review committee. This enabled her to learn more about the experiences of affected people - particularly in Aboriginal communities - and to deliver safer, less traumatising inpatient units. Additionally, she was chosen to present a keynote address to AH&MRC Ground 2017, which recognises the importance of Aboriginal self-determination in mental health.

Dr Karen Burns - Deputy Commissioner 2016-2018

Ms Burns had been associated with the Mental Health Commission of New South Wales since its earliest days, first chairing the Community Advisory Council, then being appointed a part-time Deputy Commissioner in December 2016, before becoming acting full-time Deputy Commissioner in October 2017.

Ms Burns brought extensive experience, skills and insights to her roles, reflecting her broad experience across the mental health sector. Her knowledge of the community managed sector and passion for improving people’s lives was evident in all her work.  

Ms Burns led some key Commission projects, including our review of the indicators used to measure Living Well's progress, and our work to develop a set of evidence-based principles that people can use when planning, developing and monitoring community-based supports for people with mental health issues and their families and carers. She oversaw the Commission's activities to monitor and report on mental health reform,  as well as the Commission's own business operations. She inspired all with her leadership during a time of transition at the Commission.

Ms Burns was passionate about sustaining and protecting small, highly specialised community organisations to ensure the NSW community does not lose their valuable work. She was interested in developing leadership and business skills among non-government organisation executives to help them respond to system changes, including the roll out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

Promoting workplace wellbeing and participating in visits to communities around NSW were among the highlights of Ms Burns' time at the Commission. She was also instrumental in championing the use of clinical supervision, to ensure Commission staff and all those we meet with are supported. 

Tania Skippen - Deputy Commissioner 2018-2019

Ms Skippen has been a strong champion for people with lived experience and mental health reform in NSW during her time at the Commission. Ms Skippen led key projects including the midpoint refresh of Living Well, the development of new indicators of mental health reform, resourcing improved health literacy across NSW, and the development of a policy position to address the intersections between mental health and sexual assault. 

Ms Skippen’s deep understanding of the mental health sector and strong networks enhanced the work of the Commission. Tania led the Commission’s state-wide program of Living Well community and sector consultations to learn what local communities have to say about mental health reform and the challenges that remain. The results from this work will be crucial to identifying the priorities for the second half of the 10-year mental health reform program in NSW.  

Ms Skippen has also been a champion for reform in the area of early intervention and prevention for children and young people. She began her career in paediatrics, providing therapy to infants, children and young people including those who had endured abuse and were in out-of-home care. Later, she developed programs for children, young people and families to improve their mental health, parenting, family relationships and independent living.

Allan Sparkes CV, OAM, VA - Deputy Commissioner 2016-2018

Allan Sparkes served for 20 years as a frontline police officer.  He is also a member of the NSW Police Mental Health Intervention Training team and the Commission’s Suicide Prevention Advisory Group. Through his personal story of recovery from mental health issues, Mr Sparkes has been inspiring others in their recovery journey and persuading governments and the mental health sector to work more proactively to help people in acute distress. He is passionate about wellbeing and suicide prevention and was instrumental in the development of the Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy for First Responder organisations in NSW and continues to be an advocate for further work in this space.

Mr Sparkes contributed more recently to the Commission's Living Well mid-term review community consultations. He co-facilitated the Commission's fora at Campbelltown and Sydney, and visited local services with the Commission team. His commitment to the work of the Commission was seen in how he respectfully engaged with the many people we met and the many speeches and events he attended as a Deputy Commissioner. This year Mr Sparkes was made a fellow of the Royal Society of NSW and a Director of the Gidget Foundation Board. 

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Last updated: 10 November 2020