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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

LiFE Award for Excellence in Suicide Prevention – the inaugural ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ (2014) (2)

Its always amazing when colleagues say such nice things about you.
This was a tribute from Jaelea Skehan, Director of the Hunter Institute for Mental Health

Jaelea, Thank you for your kind words. As I said to you privately, they mean as much as the award itself.

Thursday, 24 July 2014
G MartinLast night, the winners of the 2014 LiFE Awards for Excellence in Suicide Prevention were announced in Perth to coincide with the National Suicide Prevention Conference. There were many very deserving winners, but there was no louder or more spontaneous cheer than when the Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Professor Graham Martin OAM.
Our Director, Jaelea Skehan, felt compelled to write this personal post from Perth (over an early morning coffee). In Jaelea’s words:
Yesterday morning I was running a workshop with two young and bright staff members from the Hunter Institute of Mental Health. As part of the opening, one of the staff commented that this was her second suicide prevention conference and since she was so early in her career she was really looking forward to learning from others, particularly people in the room (and the conference more broadly) who had been leading the way in suicide prevention for many years.
I remember at that moment reflecting on who I would consider to be the leaders in suicide prevention, and more importantly, who the people were who nurtured my career and supported me in those early and formative years – when I too was in my 20s and starting my career in suicide prevention.
Graham Martin was one of a handful of people that came to mind in that moment.  Since I was meant to be assisting with the workshop it was only a fleeting thought until later in the night when the Lifetime Achievement Award for suicide prevention was award to the very same man I thought of earlier in the day.
In a week where we have seen a vocal medical professional suspended for forgetting the value “first do no harm” it was validating to celebrate a medical professional who has dedicated his life to people – whether they be the people he works with and for, or the colleagues he has supported and mentored over the years.
To steal from his official bio, Graham Martin is a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist with skills in individual and family therapy. His research interests are in Early Intervention and Promotion of Mental Health with special reference to prevention of suicide. He has been the Director of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services in South Australia and Queensland and has been dedicated to suicide prevention since 1987. In fact, he was one of the pioneers of our first ever National Youth Suicide Prevention Program and had sat on the National Advisory Council for Suicide Prevention.
Graham was Suicide Prevention Australia’s (SPA) chairman from the mid-1990s, led the team developing the first Media and Suicide Resource Kit (‘Achieving the Balance’, 1998) that later turned into the Mindframe National Media Initiative, and among many other things awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in 2006. In recent years he has led the way in redefining how we think about and treat self-injury, completing the largest ever national survey of self-injury.
I met, and got to work with, Graham Martin early in my career. And while many people in a position such as his would be quick to dismiss a young psychologist from Newcastle until perhaps she had “earned her stripes”, Graham is one of those people who encouraged and supported me and many others. 
Graham is the person who says what everyone else in the room is thinking but perhaps doesn’t have the courage or eloquence to say. He is committed to translating research into practice and he has always reminded us to keep ‘people’ at the centre of what we do.  
On behalf of the Hunter Institute of Mental Health (who has had the privilege of working with you on mental health promotion and suicide prevention programs since the late 1990s) I would like to offer a heartfelt congratulations.  It is people like you that I think of and draw strength from. And it is people like you who I will try to emulate to ensure I inspire and lead people who will come after me. 
It was a shame that Graham could not travel to Perth to accept the award – perhaps more of a shame for those of us in the sector who would have liked to say “thank you” in person – rather than over twitter.
His award was accepted on his behalf by another great mentor of mine A/Professor Myfanwy Maple who is a member of the current SPA Board.  In accepting the award she said:
“It gives me very great pleasure to accept this award on behalf of Professor Graham Martin. His are very big boots to fill. He holds a special place in my life as one of my PhD examiners, and therefore one of the very few people in the world who has read my PhD from cover to cover.
“Many of you know Graham. Graham has played such an important role in suicide prevention in Australia for such a long time, I could hazard a guess there would be few, if any, in this room who can remember the sector without Graham's presence. By the applause for him being awarded this, I can assume I am right.
“He has contributed in so many ways, and continues to do so. He is in a place where he can challenge the status quo. And I do believe that all good conferences should be about challenges. So I am going to read to you the content of an email that some of us received recently. I have been in communication with Graham and he has given me permission to share this with you. To me, this captures the essence of the sector from a wise man who has seen it all, “ said A/Prof. Maple.
So in Graham's words (and reproduced here with Graham’s blessing):
“The transverse myelitis of my spinal cord continues to leave me quite handicapped, even after nearly 5 years. The myriad symptoms make life difficult and unpredictable and I have given up travelling and conferences in favour of writing lots of books.
“I am sorry not to have contributed to your process but after 35 years of heading up conferences, 30 years of suicide prevention research, and 20 years of racing around being on national and numerous other committees, generally pretending to be important and “believing we were getting somewhere, I believe now that we have been somewhat defeated by bureaucratic process at all levels, and the massive resistance to evaluating our own work.
“My preference is to write as much as I can in the next few years, goading the field to evaluate, and shifting the focus to actual intervention programs, rather than arguing about minutiae, and organising more committees to discuss it all. That may sound jaded, but I hasten to assure people I am not. I remain dedicated to suicide prevention, and am likely to remain so,” he said.
Congratulations to all the other award winners, particularly to the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre that the Hunter Institute of Mental Health is a partner of, and colleagues from Mates in Construction who are currently working with us on interventions for the Mining Industry in NSW and QLD.  You can read about all the winners on the Suicide Prevention Australia website
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