History of Society

In 1970, the late Professor Cecil Kidd (University of Western Australia) and Scott Henderson (University of Tasmania) discussed ways of strengthening psychiatric research in Australia. Both had come to Australia from the Department of Mental Health at the University of Aberdeen. There they had seen the Scottish Society for Psychiatric Research serve as a model for promoting research. It held an annual forum where researchers, irrespective of discipline, reported their studies, or investigations being planned. The Society included psychologists, psychiatrists, statisticians, economists and basic scientists. Particular emphasis was given to the encouragement of younger clinicians who were at an early stage in their career and had had no experience in research.

At that time in Australia and New Zealand, with a few striking exceptions, there was not a great deal of activity in psychiatric research. The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) had had little impact on the overall picture. Importantly, it included only psychiatrists in its membership. But Kidd and Henderson were seeking a forum for all disciplines relevant to research on mental disorders.

Following Cecil Kidd's death, Scott Henderson, Issy Pilowsky, Graham Burrows and Peter Beumont joined in setting up a national forum. In April 1978, they held a small conference at the Australian National University. At an informal discussion in the Florey Theatre of the John Curtin School of Medical Research, they decided to form the Australian Society for Psychiatric Research (ASPR). Since that year, the Society has held annual scientific meetings, moving round the capital cities. It has acted as a forum for people to report their studies and to have them discussed by their peers. Particular encouragement is given to younger investigators. The Society has also developed a role in advocacy for research funding in the same manner as the Australian Society for Medical Research. Attendance at meetings has greatly expanded over the years. In 1995, the Society became the Australasian Society for Psychiatric Research in belated recognition of the participation from New Zealanders.

Recognising a need to update the constitution of the Society, as well as the opportunity to be the recipient of funds raised via the ABC Mental As campaign, a number of changes were made to the Society in July 2014.  Following a Special General Meeting, 3 resolutions were passed by the membership, that would move ASPR into a new era.  The first resolution, passed unanimously, was to update the constitution to enable the Society to become a health promotion charity and register for DGR status.  The second resolution, again passed unanimously, was to change the name of the Society.  The third resolution enabled the name of the Society to be changed to "The Society for Mental Health Research.   These changes will enable SMHR to provide much needed support to early career researchers as they embark on their career, following the paths of the founders of ASPR.

The Society influences people's careers in a number of ways. It is a forum where people are exposed to role models - people who are heavily committed to psychiatric research, whether that be in the laboratory sciences such as neurobiology and psychophysiology, in epidemiology, in the development and evaluation of treatments and in health services research. It acts as a forum where germinal ideas and new approaches to particular research questions can be aired, discussed and developed into viable projects. ASPR has also come to help with success in grant applications, as by holding mock interviews by NHMRC assessors.

ASPR has established an affiliation with the Australian Society for Medical Research and is a member of the Mental Health Council of Australia which is the peak body for the mental health sector. It is also affiliated with CINP and, in recent years, has developed a closer relationship with Rotary.


The butterfly logo was developed by one of the society's founders, Prof Issy Pilowsky. The butterfly is the symbol of Psyche and there is a variety of butterfly actually called Psyche. Prof Pilowsky thought a butterfly was also appropriate because "capturing our beautiful data is like capturing a butterfly; you have to be so careful that the methodology does not damage what makes it attractive!"

1979–1980 Prof Peter Beumont
1981–1982 Prof Peter Beumont
1983–1984 Prof Scott Henderson
1985–1986 Prof Issy Pilowsky
1987–1988 Prof Issy Pilowsky
1989–1990 Prof Graham Burrows
1991–1992 Prof David Copolov
1993–1994 Prof Gavin Andrews

1995–1996 A/Prof Fiona Judd
1997–1998 Prof Vaughan Carr
1999–2001 Prof Anthony Jorm
2001–2003 Prof Phil Mitchell
2003-2006 Ms Vera Morgan
2006-2009 Prof Henry Jackson
2009-2012 Prof Helen Christensen
2012-2017 Prof Pat McGorry

As part of a University of Western Australia student practicum project in 2004, the history of ASPR was documented by Victoria Tait, based on a series of interviews and archival research.  The project was supervised by Vera Morgan.  

Interviewees included Scott Henderson Tony Jorm, Fiona Judd, Jayashri Kulkarni, Andrew Mackinnon, Issy Pilowsky, Paul Skerritt  and Philip Ward.  A transcript of these interviews can be found here

An Appendix document can be found here and contains historical information including:

- Foundation Members
- Past Presidents and Committee Members 1978-2004
- Summary of the annual scientific meeting ­  year, location, theme, plenary speakers
- Summaries of the Annual General Meetings ­ Issues Covered 1978-2004

- Original aims, circa 1984
- Australian Society for Psychiatric Research ­ Original constitution and Rules 1981
- Australasian Society for Psychiatric Research - Revised Constitution and Rules (pre-2004 constitution)


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