CEO’s Passion for Perinatal Mental Health Fuels her Leadership of Large Mental Health Hospital

October 5, 2020

There  is something in this episode for everyone. This podcast is  for you if  you have a career in the health or mental health sector and you are  interested in the pathway to leadership. It is also relevant to leaders in  other sectors who may be considering a pivot into the mental health sector.  Most importantly, this episode has much to offer anyone whose life has been  touched or impacted by PND. Mary's empathy and leadership insights bring this  experience to life.

In  this conversation, there is a strong thread of wisdom and insight gained  through decades of experience that have the listener leaning in to learn  more.

Mary  shares pragmatic and empathic insights into leading a mental health hospital  delivering high quality services to people when they are most  vulnerable.  And….she puts heaps of myths to bed around Postnatal  Depression.  

Mary  Williams journey to being appointed as the CEO of Belmont Private Hospital is  paved with learnings and insights from spending time, in Mary’s words, “on  each rung of the ladder”.

Leading a hospital that cares for patients with mental health conditions requires  a particular kind of leader - and Mary Williams is that leader.  

A leadership takeaway from Mary about Communication:

  • Provide an environment where information is accessible and freely flowing from the decision-makers.  Mary couches this takeaway with a particular focus on leading through COVID-19. Information is multi-layered and as CEO it is her role to disseminate not simply her decisions and those of the Healthe Care Board, but decisions by the WHO, the Australian National Cabinet, and  Queensland Health to ensure       everyone at the Hospital is on the same page.

Leading High-Performance Teams in the Mental Health arena

When  asked about the people who make up her teams at Belmont Private Hospital,  Mary is clear that they are a high-performance team who know their job is to  “walk alongside a patient, to facilitate their capacity to be their best  healthy self”.

While  Belmont Private Hospital serves the needs of patients with a broad range of mental health conditions, in this episode I explore leadership in the area of  perinatal mental health. Mary was awarded an Order of Australia Medal in 2015  for her work in improving the lives of women experiencing Perinatal Mental  Health Disorders.

Mary  speaks about how people who are very well-meaning can imagine that working in  this field will be somewhat ‘fluffy’.  She demolishes this myth and  gives us examples of how disempowering it is for a woman experiencing  postnatal depression to have a well-meaning person step in and take over care  of the baby.  

She  opens up about leading teams of health professionals whose role is to ensure  that vital connection between mother and baby is not severed, by walking  beside the mother as she learns the skills and build the bonds with her  baby. 

A leadership takeaway from Mary for those considering pivoting  into the Mental Health Sector:

  • Understand that the journey to becoming a truly accomplished leader often involves a career where you  have spent time on the various rungs of the leadership ladder.  This is particularly useful when looking at leading a mental health hospital - tangible insights into the challenges, frustrations, demands and rewards experienced by your people as they support very vulnerable patients and their families are essential.
  • This is a very rewarding sector for professionals to work in, however it is also very demanding, physically and emotionally.  If you are interested in       working in perinatal mental health where you are supporting mothers with their babies, the demands are multi-layered and you must be able to       support a mother to gain the confidence and skills she requires to be a well person and return to her daily life.
  • Get clear on your own drivers. To be effective you need to be able to separate your own experiences from your professional presence.  It is vital not to overshare and therefore burden people who are working through their own chronic experience of a mental health disorder. Don't enter this sector if you want to “save” people - this is the sector for professionals who are calm, centred and who recognise that their role is to “walk alongside a patient to support them to regain their mental health and be the best well person they can be”.  
  • The work is demanding - and requires people who are able to use their common sense and their initiative. You must be able to think on your feet.
  • You need emotional intelligence and be invested in the journey to wellness of the people you are there to support.

A leadership takeaway from Mary for each and everyone one of us  as we navigate through the challenges of life during COVID-19

  • Remember we are “physically distancing” not “socially distancing”.  Stay connected to people who like and care about you - people who will support you.

For  listeners this episode resonated because of the focus on perinatal mental  health, tune into Episode 6 where I interview Ariane Beeston, who is leading  change in the community interface for women experiencing perinatal mental  health issues.


Ariane  is a former child protection psychologist, turned writer and mother-of-one.  After experiencing postnatal psychosis, Ariane developed a passion for making  quality perinatal mental health information accessible to other women and  families.


Mary Williams LinkedIn


Belmont Private Hospital


Centre of Perinatal Excellence


Understanding Theory of  The Ghosts in the Nursery  A brief U-Tube interview with Dr Alicia Lieberman in  Conversation with Dr David Oppenheium about Selma Fraiberg’s psychoanalytic  work on Mother Infant relationships. (A text Mary refers to in this episode)