Annette Baker has become a reluctant hero in the fight to tackle this country’s mental health crisis.
This week she was announced as one of seven finalists in the first Australian Mental Health Prize, established by the University of New South Wales.
The prize aims to recognise Australians who have made an outstanding contribution to the promotion of mental health, or the prevention and treatment of mental illness.
Mrs Baker was chosen from a field of more than 130 for founding the Albury-Wodonga Winter Solstice event to support people dealing with suicide.
The free community event, which began in 2013, aims to shed light on the silent grief of suicide during the longest night of the year.
Joining Mrs Baker among the finalists are indigenous former football star Joe Williams who runs a suicide prevention charity, veteran-turned-author James Prascevic who crossed the Bass Strait in a tinnie, and Betty Kitchener, who developed the world’s first Mental Health First Aid program.
Ian Hickie, another major force on the national mental health landscape, is also in the mix.
The founding CEO of beyondblue, current member of the National Mental Health Commission and internationally-renowned researcher in depression, early intervention and youth mental health, was instrumental in the creation of headspace.
Mrs Baker said she was both honoured and humbled to be included as a finalist among such hallowed company.
The outspoken and passionate grassroots campaigner said her greatest wish would be to see the Winter Solstice concept rolled out in regional towns and cities across the nation.
Together with her husband Stuart and their sons Jack and Henri, Mrs Baker has worked to raise awareness of mental health and break down the stigma of suicide after their beloved daughter and sister Mary took her life at 15.
For the past four years they have almost single-handedly orchestrated the Winter Solstice for Survivors of Suicide community event, becoming beacons of hope in this community and beyond – not for triumphing over the darkness, but for surviving it.
Ita Buttrose, chair of the Australian Mental Health Prize Advisory Group, said one in five Australians experienced mental illness in any given year.
“The aim of this Prize is to help reduce the stigma often associated with mental illness, and raise awareness of some of the ground-breaking and life-changing work occurring in Australia,” she said.
The winner will be announced at a formal awards ceremony on December 7.