Australia’s first ever Indigenous doctor and highly regarded expert in child and adolescent psychiatry, Professor Helen Milroy has recently been announced as WA Australian of the Year for 2021.

This news comes just days after being announced as the dual recipient of the 2020 Australian Mental Health Prize, which recognises the contributions made by outstanding Australians in their promotion, prevention or treatment of mental health.

“It is a great honour, although it is a little overwhelming. It shows some sort of acknowledgement to raise the status of these issues,” she said.

A descendant of the Palyku people in WA’s Pilbara region, Professor Milroy is a pioneer unlike any other.

She has extensive experience in research, education and training spanning over 25 years; having made significant development within children’s mental health and skilfully combining Aboriginal and western knowledge systems.

Professor Milroy said chronic under-investment in the availability of long-term services has been a significant barrier to supporting children’s mental health in the past.

“What we don’t have is the sort of services that can support families over the long term,” she said.

“Of course we don’t want families to be dependent, but we do need to provide intensive service support.”

“Let’s deal with it comprehensively early on, [because] that investment will pay off.”

Professor Milroy also stressed the need for greater cultural models of care and holistic medicine in addressing intergenerational trauma and adversity.

“I don’t think we have fully understood the magnitude of what has happened [due to forced assimilation],” she said.

“I think most of our systems of care can’t cope … part of the way forward is putting our heads together and not just applying simple models of health care.

“We need to support right from pre-birth to old age to restore the population.

“My vision is for my great grandchildren to grow into very, very old people.

“Because if we invest in our children today, then we have a successful nation tomorrow. That’s what we need to do. If we think about our kids today, what will they say about us tomorrow?”

By Rachel Stringfellow