Psychiatry Fellowship for lived experience leadership

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (the College) has awarded Te Pou o te Whakaaro Nui principal advisor mental health and service user lead Caro Swanson an Honorary Fellowship for her influential work in mental health systems and services. 

Honorary Fellowship of the College recognises exceptional and prominent contributions to psychiatry and mental health by a person who does not otherwise qualify for Fellowship. Honorary Fellows are recognised as members of the College.

Caro has worked for more than 20 years in mental health consumer and peer roles, including consumer advisory, auditing, governance, peer support, project management, training, facilitation, consultancy, evaluation, resource development, advocacy, writing, supervision and mentoring, and quality improvement.

Re-framing our thinking inclusively and collegially

Caro’s nomination was put forward by psychiatrists and College Fellows Dr Susanna Every-Palmer and Dr John Crawshaw, who said Caro’s work has and continues to focus on challenging and changing attitudes, beliefs, behaviours and practices.  

Dr Every-Palmer said over the years Caro has been very effective at engaging clinicians in understanding the experiences of people accessing services and what clinicians can do to enhance this experience.

“Caro is driven by the passionate belief that our responses to people must include compassion and more holistic, joined-up options. She is brave in facing people who have differing opinions, frequently revisiting some of her darkest days, and sharing them with strangers, in the hope that it will change people for the better.”

“I am delighted that our College has honoured Caro – and indirectly Te Pou – through this prestigious award. It is people like her who make the world a better place, one day at a time.”

A strong, authentic voice

At Te Pou, Caro currently co-leads least restrictive practice projects and national peer workforce development. She has been instrumental in the creation and ongoing growth of the Equally Well collaborative to address physical health inequities and achieve physical health equity. 

In March 2018, while presenting at a forum in Wellington, Caro faced one of her own, and one of the most serious, physical health challenges - a heart attack. A week later she underwent quadruple by-pass heart surgery. Within three months, Caro was back at work, giving a keynote presentation at Aotearoa New Zealand’s largest general practice conference, using this most recent lived experience to raise awareness of the Equally Well collaborative to inspire GPs and primary care teams into action.

Demonstrating peer values and leadership 

Te Pou chief executive Rae Lamb said Caro makes a phenomenal contribution. She champions hope, places people at the centre and finds new ways to tell stories that speak to the heart. 

“We are very proud to have Caro as a senior leader in our team.”

Caro said she is absolutely flabbergasted but very honoured to receive this award.

“To be awarded for doing something you believe in so strongly is incredibly validating. I appreciate, more than anything, the valuing of lived experience this implies and feel it heralds a strengthened resolve and enthusiasm for working together more effectively.” 

A significant and lasting impact on mental health and addiction systems and services

The College President, Associate Professor John Allan, said the Board was impressed by the significant and lasting impact Caro’s work has had on the quality of mental health and addiction systems and services in Aotearoa New Zealand and, more recently, Australia.  

“The RANZCP is proud to award an Honorary Fellowship to such a dedicated mental health advocate. I congratulate Caro on her years of steadfast service to those with lived experience and her determination toward improving mental health systems.”

Caro joins Norman Sartorius as the only living Honorary Fellows of the RANZCP. Born in 1935, Sartorius is a Croatian psychiatrist and university professor who is a former director of the World Health Organisation's (WHO) Division of Mental Health, and a former president of the World Psychiatric Association and of the European Psychiatric Association. He has been described as "one of the most prominent and influential psychiatrists of his generation”. (Wikipedia).

Caro will receive her award later this year at the annual Congress in Hobart Australia, where she will accept her Honorary Fellowship and be conferred into the College, alongside other recipients of Fellowships.


About Honorary Fellowship

Honorary Fellowship is awarded to medical practitioners, other health professionals, or community members – either from within Australia and New Zealand or from overseas.

Honorary Fellows are expected to have made an exceptional and prominent contribution towards improving the mental health of communities in Australia, New Zealand, or the Asian or Pacific regions through high quality mental health care, education, leadership or advocacy. Contributions may include:

  • promoting better care and patient outcomes
  • increasing public understanding of mental illness
  • informing and influencing mental health policy.

Honorary Fellowship is by nomination only. It is generally capped at two Honorary Fellows per year. It is conferred by unanimous approval of the Board.