New board chair and deputy board chair for the Mental Health Foundation

The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) welcomes a new board chair – Kevin Allan – and recognises the appointment of a new deputy chair – Rochelle Stewart-Withers.
Found in: News / Statements
Date: 22 November 2021

The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) is welcoming a new board chair – Kevin Allan – and recognising the appointment of a new deputy chair – Rochelle Stewart-Withers.

Mr Allan most recently served as Aotearoa’s Mental Health Commissioner at the office of the Health and Disability Commissioner, from February 2016 to February 2021. He joins the MHF with a deep commitment to promoting mental wellbeing in Aotearoa New Zealand in a way that upholds Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

“I believe the MHF has an enormously valuable role to play in supporting people who live with mental distress, in helping people to work their way through challenges and find their way to wellbeing,” Mr Allan says. “The MHF’s commitment to evidence-based work is what New Zealand needs.”

Mr Allan has personal experience of the impact of mental health challenges. That experience has informed his work in championing the rights of people with mental illness and distress.

Dr Stewart-Withers has been a long-serving member of the MHF’s board. She has whāngai whakapapa to Te Ati Awa and is an academic at Massey University in the School of People, Environment and Planning: Development Studies, where next year she takes up the title of Associate Professor.

When Dr Stewart-Withers was a teenager, she spent time as an inpatient in a mental health unit after a suicide attempt where she was diagnosed with depression, an experience that has shaped her life and helped form her decision to become a nurse.

“I want young people experiencing distress to know that you really can come from a place of hopelessness and recover, you can go on to live a happy and successful life. I can remember the deep shame I felt back then, when I had to go back to school and to my family, and I wish I had known then what I know now, that it would be ok.”

Dr Stewart-Withers values that the work the MHF undertakes is evidence-based, and believes the time is right for the MHF to step up its role as critic and conscience in the mental health space. She supports the holistic approach the MHF takes in its work in addressing the social determinants of mental ill-health.

Both Mr Allan and Dr Stewart-Withers bring with them deep insight into the realities and the complexities of the mental health system and the ways it can be improved and adjusted to better meet the needs of tāngata whai ora, whānau and staff.

The Mental Health Foundation staff and board also wish to acknowledge outgoing board chair Jeremy Gardiner, who is stepping down as chair but is remaining on the board.

“Jeremy has supported the MHF through times of extraordinary difficulty, including the challenges presented by COVID-19,” MHF chief executive Shaun Robinson says. “He has been a kind, wise and thoughtful leader, always ready with insight and support. His contributions to our mahi have been invaluable, and we are a stronger organisation thanks to his leadership.”