RIGHT HEADSPACE: Former Australian of the year, Professor Patrick McGorry shares his journey.
RIGHT HEADSPACE: Former Australian of the year, Professor Patrick McGorry shares his journey. Mike Burton

PODCAST: Australian of the Year is in the right headspace

Professor Patrick McGorry was the 2010 Australian of the Year. Not bad for a bloke born in Ireland. After four years of studying general medicine in the early 80s, Pat could see the mentally ill were getting "an extremely raw deal," so he turned his focus to psychiatry. In those days patients were locked up and it was "a century behind the rest of health care". He believes the mentally ill still get a raw deal, but thanks to Pat's involvement in Headspace and Orygen, things are slowly improving.

LISTEN: Get the full conversation with Professor Patrick McGorry here:

Matt Collins:

What was Pat McGorry like as a high school student?

 

Pat McGorry:

I was born in Ireland and came to Australia when I was 15. I went to Newcastle Boy's High.

 

MC:

What were the biggest difference.

 

PM:

We actually went via Wales so there were huge differences. The only single thing we had in common was that people spoke English, although I had a bit of trouble being understood.

 

MC:

Haha, are you sure Welsh is English?

 

PM:

Well that is exactly right. They couldn't understand what I was saying and they had no idea what I was saying. People were a lot more up front in Australia I would say. Luckily I was reasonably good at sport, I played rugby, so that helped me avoid bullying.

 

MC:

Your family was very academic. What did your parents do?

 

PM:

My mum was a nurse and dad was a doctor. He was a tuberculosis doctor and then he looked after miners with lung diseases, the black lung problem. He obviously thought medicine was a good thing to do and encouraged me to do that. So I thought I'd give it ago.

 

MC:

You went on to specialise in youth mental health, was that an area you always had an interest in?

 

PM:

Not really, I wanted to do psychiatry. I did four years of general medicine and then I went into psychiatry because I could see the mentally ill were getting an extremely raw deal in the health system.

 

MC:

What sort of year was that Pat?

 

PM:

That was like early 80s, by the time I got into psychiatry training. But back in the those days everyone was locked up in mental hospitals, their human rights were not respected. It was a very grim situation. Like a century behind the rest of health care.

 

MC:

You were a large reason for the beginning of the youth mental heath program, Headspace. Did you ever get to a point where you realised this was a lot bigger problem then what you initially thought?

 

PM:

Yeah, that was the problem we were at in 2000. We had made calculations to the upper level of need of Australia. Only a quarter of the young people in Australia with a mental health problem were getting any sort of help. So 75 per cent were getting nothing and that's why the youth suicide rate was so appalling. Headspace was rolled out over ten years to these 110 places. It started as ten centres and now it's 110.

 

MC:

In 2010 you were recognised and acknowledged as Australian of the Year. Was that a surprise when you initially found out?

 

PM:

Absolutely, it completely floored me. I had no idea I had even been nominated. I was overwhelmed. Having that level of attention is pretty uncomfortable in some way, on a personal level. But I was incredibly grateful for that honour.

LISTEN: Get the full conversation with Professor Patrick McGorry here: