Associate Professor Ed Heffernan

Head of the Forensic Mental Health Group

Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research







Associate Professor Ed Heffernan leads the Forensic Mental Health Research Group at Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research, and is a senior staff specialist (eminent status) and Director of Queensland Forensic Mental Health Services within Queensland Health.

Ed Heffernan is a clinical leader in the mental health system. With over 20 years of experience working in the criminal justice system, Ed has helped establish services in Queensland for those with mental health problems who come into contact with police, courts, watch houses and prisons.  He has provided expert testimony to courts and tribunals and is frequently called upon to assist with service reviews and clinical investigations both in Queensland and at a national level.  He is actively involved in training medical students, registrars and psychiatrists in clinical assessment and management with a particular focus on violence and suicide risk. Ed’s leadership in mental health extends to his involvement in key state and national committees in areas such as safety and quality in mental health and health planning for major events such as the G20 and the Queensland Commonwealth Games.

Ed is passionate about enhancing the health and human rights of people living with mental illness who intersect with the criminal justice and mental health systems. His research interests include both epidemiology and health services research, and span the spectrum from early intervention and prevention through to continuing care and relapse prevention.  Ed is currently involved in leading several large research projects, chairs the academic and research committee for forensic mental health and supervises three PhD candidates.


Fellow, Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatry

Doctor of Philosophy, The University of Queensland

Master of Public Health, The University of Queensland

Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery, The University of Queensland

Bachelor of Science (Hons I), University of Melbourne

Research Interests

Ed is currently conducting research in the following areas. If you are interested in PhD study in any of these areas, you can contact him here:

Mental health crisis and police 

It is estimated that as much as 50% of police time is spent in responding to incidents involving a person with mental illness. These interactions provide an opportunity to positively intervene in the trajectories of people with mental illness in order to improve outcomes and reduce downstream engagement with the criminal justice system. Professor Heffernan collaborates extensively with both police and ambulance responders to enhance responses by police and mental health services to persons with mental illness in the community. His work in this area has led to award winning innovation  such as the Police Communications Centre Mental Health Liaison Service, a consultation-liaison service to facilitate information sharing between mental health services and police. Building on this success, Ed is currently working collaboratively with Queensland Police and Ambulance Services as the director of Partners in Prevention: Understanding and enhancing first responses to suicide crisis situations.

Mental health and human rights of people in custodial settings

The prevalence of mental disorders among people in custody is magnitudes higher than it is for the general population. However access to adequate mental health care both in custody and in transition back to the community is often limited. This is evident in the mental health related mortality and morbidity experienced by those recently released from custodial settings. Ed has been involved in research that has resulted in significant improvements in service delivery to people living with mental illness in custodial settings for over a decade. He led the first Australian systematic assessment of substance use disorders and mental health needs among a watch house population and was the principal investigator of Australia’s largest systematic survey of the mental health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in custody.  He is also involved in several projects that seek to enhance and evaluate mental health services, including: identifying the prevalence of mental disorders among those involved in police negotiator situations; national benchmarking of mental health court liaison and prison mental health services; outcomes of the individuals who are assessed by the Queensland Court Liaison Service; outcomes of a specialist in-reach mental health program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in custody; a study of aspects of fitness for interview by police, fitness for trial and the criminal justice processes and procedures of individuals found to be of unsound mind in Queensland; and a national comparison of the use of involuntary mental health treatment orders in Australia.

Trauma, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the criminal justice system

Experiences of trauma, post-traumatic stress and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are highly prevalent among people who come into contact with first responders (police and ambulance) or the criminal justice system. For example, while the lifetime prevalence of PTSD in the Australian community is estimated to be around 7%1, Ed’s research has shown that the prevalence of diagnosed PTSD may be as high as 47%2 among incarcerated Indigenous women; the twelve-month prevalence of PTSD among Indigenous men in prison also exceeds the national average3. This is significant as these experiences are often relevant to the presentation and outcomes for individuals. Trauma is not limited to those who find themselves in the criminal justice system, but is also experienced among first responders to crisis situations. Service providers with the responsibility to care for individuals, either in crisis or in the criminal justice system, often feel inadequately trained or ill-equipped to recognise the manifestations of trauma or assist in managing these problems. Ed’s research interests in this area include: research to provide effective treatment and management approaches for people in custody; and the training, support and development needs of first responders to mental health and suicide crises.

1 McEvoy, P. M., Grove, R., and Slade, T. (2011). Epidemiology of anxiety disorders in the Australian general population: Findings of the 2007 Australian National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 45(11), 957-967. DOI: 10.3109/00048674.2011.624083.

2 Heffernan, E., Anderson, K., Aboud, A., Scotney, A., Kinner, S., Kilroy, K., Davidson, F. (2014). The Family Business: Improving the understanding and treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder among incarcerated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. Queensland Forensic Mental Health Service, Brisbane.

3 Heffernan, E., Andersen, K., Davidson, F. and Kinner, S. A. (2015), PTSD Among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People in Custody in Australia: Prevalence and Correlates. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 28: 523–530. doi:10.1002/jts.22051

Research Grants

2017 – 2020 Improving Outcomes for people with acute mental illness in the emergency department: a data linkage study. NHMRC Project Grant

2014 – 2018 Developing a model for Culturally Competent Prison Mental Health Services. National Closing the Gap Funding (via Qld Indigenous Health Unit)

2014 – 2016 Juvenile offenders sexual and reproductive and mental health study (14-18 years) – Queensland. NHMRC Project Grant

2013 – 2016 The Australian Centre for Research Excellence in Offender Health. NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence

2013 – 2014 Strong Futures – Improving the understanding and treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among incarcerated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. Beyondblue National Priority Driven Research Grant



Young, Jesse T, Heffernan, Ed, Borschmann, Rohan, Ogloff, James R P, Spittal, Matthew J, Kouyoumdjian, Fiona G, Preen, David B, Butler, Amanda, Brophy, Lisa, Crilly, Julia and Kinner, Stuart A (2018) Dual diagnosis of mental illness and substance use disorder and injury in adults recently released from prison: a prospective cohort study. The Lancet. Public health, . doi:10.1016/S2468-2667(18)30052-5


Emmerson, B., Praskova, A., Fawcett, L., Crompton, D., & Heffernan, E. (2017). Mental health services planning for G20 summit in Brisbane and assessment of impactAustralasian Psychiatry, 25(1), 60-65. doi:10.1177/1039856216671653

Davidson, F., Heffernan, E., Greenberg, D., Butler, T., & Burgess, P. Key performance indicators for Australian mental health court liaison services. Australasian Psychiatry, Available online doi:1039856217711052

Davidson, F., Heffernan, E., Greenberg, D., Waterworth, R., & Burgess, P. (2017). Mental Health and Criminal Charges: Variation in Diversion Pathways in Australia. Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, 1-11. doi:10.1080/13218719.2017.1327305

Borschmann, R., Young, J. T., Moran, P., Spittal, M. J., Heffernan, E., Mok, K., & Kinner, S. A. (2017). Ambulance attendances resulting from self-harm after release from prison: a prospective data linkage study. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 52(10), 1295-1305. doi:10.1007/s00127-017-1383-z

Borschmann, R., Thomas, E., Moran, P., Carroll, M., Heffernan, E., Spittal, M. J., . . . Kinner, S. A. (2017). Self-harm following release from prison: A prospective data linkage study. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 51(3), 250-259. doi:10.1177/0004867416640090


Mellsop, G., Choi, W. K., Every-Palmer, S., Green, B., Heffernan, E., Kachaeva, M., . . . Wang, X. (2016). Drug driven psychoses and legal responsibility or insanity in six Western Pacific nations. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 47(Supplement C), 68-73. doi:

Heffernan, E., Davidson, F., Andersen, K., & Kinner, S. (2016). Substance use disorders among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in custody: a public health opportunity. Health & Justice, 4(1), 12. doi:10.1186/s40352-016-0044-8

Green, B., Denton, M., Heffernan, E., Russell, B., Stapleton, L., & Waterson, E. (2016). From Custody to Community: Outcomes of Community-Based Support for Mentally Ill Prisoners. Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, 23(5), 798-808. doi:10.1080/13218719.2016.1152926

Davidson, F., Heffernan, E., Greenberg, D., Butler, T., & Burgess, P. (2016). A Critical Review of Mental Health Court Liaison Services in Australia: A first national survey. Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, 23(6), 908-921. doi:10.1080/13218719.2016.1155509


Heffernan, E., Andersen, K., Davidson, F., & Kinner, S. A. (2015). The Family Business – Improving the understanding and treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among incarcerated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women. Melbourne: Beyondblue

Heffernan, E., Andersen, K., Davidson, F., & Kinner, S. A. (2015). PTSD Among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People in Custody in Australia: Prevalence and Correlates. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 28(6), 523-530. doi:10.1002/jts.22051

Heffernan, E., Andersen, K., & Kinner, S. A. (2015). Enhancing research quality through cultural competence: a case study in Queensland prisons. Australasian Psychiatry, 23(6), 654-657. doi:10.1177/1039856215609763

Thomas, E. G., Spittal, M. J., Heffernan, E. B., Taxman, F. S., Alati, R., & Kinner, S. A. (2015). Trajectories of psychological distress after prison release: implications for mental health service need in ex-prisoners. Psychological Medicine, 46(3), 611-621. doi:10.1017/S0033291715002123


Pathé, M., Phillips, J., Perdacher, E., & Heffernan, E. (2014). The Harassment of Queensland Members of Parliament: A Mental Health Concern. Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, 21(4), 577-584. doi:10.1080/13218719.2013.858388

Heffernan, E., Andersen, K., McEntyre, E., & Kinner, S. (2014). Mental Disorder and Cognitive Disability in the Criminal Justice System. In P. Dudgeon, H. Milroy, & R. Walker (Eds.), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health and Wellbeing Principles and Practice. Western Australia: Telethon Kids Institute.

Every-Palmer, S., Brink, J., Chern, T. P., Choi, W.-K., Hern-Yee, J. G., Green, B., . . . Mellsop, G. (2014). Review of psychiatric services to mentally disordered offenders around the Pacific Rim. Asia-Pacific Psychiatry, 6(1), 1-17. doi:10.1111/appy.12109

Carroll, M., Kinner, S. A., & Heffernan, E. B. (2014). Medication use and knowledge in a sample of Indigenous and non-Indigenous prisoners. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 38(2), 142-146. doi:10.1111/1753-6405.12203


Ober, C., Dingle, K., Clavarino, A., Najman, J. M., Alati, R., & Heffernan, E. B. (2013). Validating a screening tool for mental health and substance use risk in an Indigenous prison population. Drug and Alcohol Review, 32(6), 611-617. doi:10.1111/dar.12063


Heffernan, E., Andersen, K., & Dev, A. (2012). Inside Out – The Mental Health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People in Custody Report. Brisbane: Queensland Government

Heffernan, E., Andersen, K., & Whitton, G. (2012). Prison populations. In K. Lee, B. Freeburn, S. Ella, W. Miller, & K. Conigrave (Eds.), Handbook for Aboriginal Alcohol and Drug Work (pp. 385-397). Sydney: University of Sydney.

Heffernan, E. B., Andersen, K. C., Dev, A., & Kinner, S. (2012). Prevalence of mental illness among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Queensland prisons. Medical Journal of Australia, 197(1), 37.