Professor Michelle Banfield

BA(Hons) BSc PhD
Professor, Lived Experience Research
ANU College of Health and Medicine
T: 0434 766 291

Areas of expertise

  • Mental Health 111714
  • Primary Health Care 111717
  • Health And Community Services 111708
  • Health Policy 160508
  • Health Systems 420311
  • Mental Health Services 420313

Research interests

  • Effective primary care for mental illness
  • Treatment and management of bipolar disorder
  • Consumer, carer and community involvement in health and research
  • Successful translation of health research into policy and practice
  • Collaborative research
  • Mental health policy
  • Suicide prevention


Michelle’s early research experience was in biological anthropology, focusing on the behaviour and social systems of primates. When she returned to research in 2004 following a period of ill health, she worked in the areas of consumer-focused research and the use of technology for the self-management of mental health problems. Her PhD explored mental health consumers’ priorities for research on depression and bipolar disorder in Australia.

Michelle's research interests include effective services and policy for mental illness.  She heads the Lived Experience Research Unit at the Centre for Mental Health Research, incorporating ACACIA: The ACT Consumer & Carer Mental Health Research Unit. The Lived Experience Research Unit aims to increase the involvement of mental health consumers and carers in the research process and conduct research relevant to their needs. From 2015-17, Michelle completed an ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) fellowship looking at service access and navigation for people with serious mental illness. She also completed an MRFF Translating Research into Practice Fellowship to explore the implementation of mental health peer work (2018-21). Most recently she has been appointed as Co-Director and Lived Experience Lead for the ALIVE National Centre for Mental Health Research Translation. She is also leading an innovative co-created project to evaluate safe spaces for suicide prevention.

As part of her commitment to active consumer involvement, Michelle has strong connections with consumer organisations and representation. She has held a number of local and national representative roles with consumer organisations. Through these roles, Michelle fosters strong ties between the consumer and research communities.

Researcher's projects

Co-creating safe spaces

Across Australia, there is increasing investment in ‘safe spaces’ for people experiencing emotional distress and suicidal crisis. These safe spaces are an alternative to emergency departments (ED), which can increase distress and are often not what is needed for support. Australian State and Territory Governments have invested in trials of safe spaces, which are being co-designed with people with lived experience of suicidal crisis/attempt, their carers and support people, and health professionals to meet the needs of the local communities. To provide critical and timely feedback on the implementation process, it is essential to conduct research in partnership with those implementing the safe spaces.

This research will establish the feasibility and effectiveness of the safe space models in the ACT, NSW and SA as genuine alternatives for people who might usually present to the ED, or choose not to access help through an ED due to past negative experiences. The proposal emphasises the experiences of guests and peer support workers as key to the effectiveness and feasibility of safe spaces. The RE-AIM framework will aid our understanding of who is being reached (Reach), experience of care, increase in connectedness, needs met and reduction in distress,  (Effectiveness), fit within the local system (Adoption), implementation processes focusing on co-design (Implementation) and the sustainability of the models including costs (Maintenance).

Better Together: Implementation of a peer worker-led mental health recovery program (MRFF TRIP Fellowship)

The integration of peer workers into the current Australian mental health system has significant capacity to address severe workforce shortages, improve recovery outcomes, and meet the growing demand for people with lived experience to support consumer recovery. This project will involved detailed analyses of the mechanisms underpinning the establishment and sustainability of peer work roles. The use of an implementation science theoretical model, coupled with participatory research methods is an innovative and rigorous approach that will develop strong, evidence-based recommendations for mental health system development in Australia.

ACACIA: The ACT Consumer & Carer Mental Health Research Unit

ACACIA is staffed by academic consumer and carer researchers who work in partnership with mental health consumers and carers in the ACT to improve their lives and the system. The initiative is intended to combine the expertise of qualified researchers with those who are experts by virtue of their lived experience. This will ensure that the research is both of high scientific quality and of optimal and meaningful benefit to consumers and carers.

Current projects include:

  • LGBTIQ+ healthcare experiences: The aim of this project is to explore the primary healthcare experiences of people from LGBTIQ+ backgrounds. Consisting of in-depth interviews, the study is investigating the key challenges people from these groups face when accessing healthcare, and the effects these have on their health, including mental health.
  • Understanding Participation project: This study aims to understand the current nature of consumer and carer participation in the ACT, determine what indicators are used to measure consumer and carer impact, and explore the concept and meaning of value from the perspective of multiple stakeholder groups in the health sector. Each stage of the study will be developed and conducted in partnership with representatives from local health consumer and carer peaks and community organisations.  Data will be collected through document studies, expert interviews, and paired interviews and focus groups.
  • Consumer and Carer Mental Health Research priority-setting : In 2013, ACACIA held a one-day forum in which consumers and carers developed and prioritised ideas for ACACIA's research agenda and suggested methods for effective active involvement in the research process. In late 2017, we conducted a survey to update the priorities with broader Australian consumer and carer input. We updated priorities again in 2021 via two virtual World Cafes, and in 2022 are contributing our work to the ALIVE priority-setting process.

Finding the path: Service access and navigation for serious mental illness in a complex Australian policy landscape (ARC DECRA Fellowship)

Finding the Path will inform health system change to ensure people with serious mental illness can access quality services. Improved access to quality mental health services has been a key target in Australian health policy for over 20 years. However, people with mental illness continue to report problems accessing and navigating the complex service system. Finding the Path studied consumers' mental health service experiences using policy, qualitative, quantitative and geographic analysis to identify systemic problems. Mental health consumers and service providers were actively involved in developing final recommendations for policy to ensure system change reflects their knowledge.

Silence is Deadly

This project sought to evaluate the Silence is Deadly Program, which has been delivered in ACT schools since 2014. This intervention is delivered by not-for-profit organisation Menslink in partnership with the state representative rugby league team (the Canberra Raiders) and uses role-modelling and social norming, as well as male-tailored vocabulary, to influence young men's help-seeking attitudes and intentions. The research project was conducted in 2017-2018, and comprised a cluster randomised controlled trial that involved 8 ACT schools. The primary aim of the study was to determine the effectiveness of this tailored approach to suicide prevention and identify if it is differentially effective for participants with different levels of mental health symptoms, suicidal thoughts, stigmatizing attitudes towards seeking help and adherence to gender role norms. This analysis was complemented by a qualitative investigation into the intervention's effect on the culture of helping seeking in the school through semi-structured interviews with staff members.

Monitoring the Way Back Support Study

Way Back is a suicide prevention initiative that aims to complement existing services to help support people after a recent suicide attempt. Way Back connects with people presenting to a hospital emergency department (ED) or other parts of the hospital following a suicide attempt. This project developed a questionnaire that can be used to 1) measure client recovery and 2) help assess how well the service works in assisting individuals in recovering from a suicide attempt. The topic areas and question wording were developed in close consultation with mental health consumers and those who have experienced suicidal ideation or a suicide attempt.

Available student projects

Areas I would be interested in supervising:

  • Mental health services research
  • Low prevalence mental disorders in primary care
  • Consumer/patient empowerment in chronic illness

I would also be happy to be an adviser on consumer involvement in health research.

Current student projects

PhD students - current

Julia Reynolds: The changing roles of psychologists and other mental health workers in the reforming mental health systems of Australia, with particular reference to the use of digital technologies to augment face to face therapies.

Cherie McGregor: Same Same Different: Social change values in mental health Peer Support

Debra Hamilton: Experiences of choice and control for people with a psychosocial disability engaging with the National Disability Insurance Scheme (USyd)

Shauna Winram: Consciousness and the phenomenology of psychosis

Dianna Smith: Learning, Connection, Opportunity, Hope : Can Recovery Colleges raise people's expectations of their possibilities

Judith Wright: Workplace mental health

Past student projects

PhD students - complete

Jane Desborough: What characteristics of general practice and practice nurse consultations are associated with patient satisfaction and enablement?

Bradley Carron-Arthur: Engagement in mental health internet peer support

Rebecca Randall: "I want to do something positive with my experiences": The youth involvement in mental health research project

Erin Parker: Anxiety disorder management in Australian primary care


Projects and Grants

Grants information is drawn from ARIES. To add or update Projects or Grants information please contact your College Research Office.

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Updated:  16 July 2024 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers