The Black Dog Institute's history reflects our continued determination to help everyone live mentally healthier lives.
In August 1985, the founding story of the Black Dog Institute began, with the establishment of the Mood Disorders Unit by Professor Gordon Parker at Prince Henry Hospital in Little Bay, NSW. It was a story of determination, entrepreneurship, research endeavour, and human dignity based on compassionate clinical care.
From its inception, the Mood Disorders Unit's aim was to build on the work of Leslie Kiloh, the inaugural Chair of the University of NSW School of Psychiatry, and develop a clinical research facility to assist people with mental illness. The facility was one where clinical observation shaped research hypotheses, while research findings, conversely, would shape clinical assessment and treatment. The nexus of clinical and research excellence allowed its charter to be addressed energetically. In 1995, the Mood Disorders Unit was the first Australian psychiatric facility to receive an NHMRC Program Grant.
In 1999, the Mood Disorders Unit moved to the Prince of Wales Hospital in Randwick, and continued to expand its programs and reach to help those with severe and persistent mental illnesses. With strong links to both the Prince of Wales Hospital and UNSW Australia (the University of New South Wales), the reputation of the Unit grew to be one of innovation; a shift in traditional treatment paradigms, in particular in the assessment and management of people with treatment-resistant mental health conditions.
Under the initiative of Peter Joseph, AM, and with the support of the then-Minister for Health, the Honourable Craig Knowles, the Mood Disorders Unit was renamed and launched as the Black Dog Institute in February 2002 by NSW Premier Bob Carr. At the same time, the iconic logo was also unveiled.
The aim of the new Institute was to incorporate and expand the clinical services previously provided, as well as to develop a number of new clinical initiatives and drive advancements in research. With the establishment of a Consumer and Community Resource Centre, the Black Dog Institute also aimed to build stronger links with community, expanding its educational activities and sharing its expertise, with both health professionals and consumers.
Over the subsequent years, the Black Dog Institute grew rapidly. Attracting new researchers and clinicians, the Institute continued to be known for its innovative approach, expanding into the development of e-mental health initiatives and increasing its reach across the country, in particular through rural health initiatives and the development of education programs, such as HeadStrong.
Community engagement has always been a strong underpinning component. From its earliest years, the Institute explored ways to expand its reach into community, establishing writing competitions, undertaking roadshows and rural initiatives – such as the 'Bush Bash' – to bring the all-important voice of lived experience to its work. Over time, the Institute also began to build a base of loyal fundraisers, donors and other supporters, as well as establish a strong brand presence as a trusted and evidence-based facility.
Professor Parker continued as Executive Director of the Black Dog Institute from 2002 until 2011, building solid foundations as a leading authority in the field of mental illness. Professor Helen Christensen took the reins in 2011, to continue to build on this foundation and to pursue an ambitious national and international agenda, bringing particular expertise in the use of technology in mental health, as well as in suicide prevention.
Under the guidance of Professor Christensen, in 2012, the Institute and UNSW Australia were awarded a prestigious NHMRC grant to establish the Centre for Research Excellence in Suicide Prevention, with the core aim to address the increasing suicide rate in Australia. In that same year, myCompass was launched, a web-based, self-help program for people with mild to moderate depression, anxiety or stress.
Continuing its tradition as an innovator in novel treatments, the Black Dog Institute launched its Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Clinic in December 2014, providing an effective new treatment option for people living with severe depression.
2015 saw the official launch of Digital Dog at the Black Dog Institute. Established through the prestigious NHMRC John Cade Fellowship granted to Professor Helen Christensen, Digital Dog is a research program to develop and deliver effective mental health interventions using technology such as apps, social media, online tools and Smartphone sensors. One of the first outputs from this program was Snapshot, a free mobile phone app that supports mental health screening, monitoring and help-seeking.
With the largest philanthropic donation to suicide prevention research in Australia, from the Paul Ramsay Foundation, 2016 saw the launch of LifeSpan, a new systems-based approach to suicide prevention. This innovative program will be rolled out over the next 6 years.
While continuing to build on its solid historic foundations as an expert in mental illness, the Black Dog Institute continues to actively explore the ever-changing space of technology and its use in both research approach and in delivery of programs and services to the community. The Institute continues its focus on the key priority areas of e-mental health, suicide prevention, novel treatments, and early intervention and prevention programs for young people, workplaces and the whole community. The Institute is also an active player in mental health reform in Australia engaging with government at the local, state and federal levels.