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Child psychiatrist dedicated to ADHD research

She initially completed training in anaesthetics but her fascination with the brain and its function ultimately led her to study psychiatry at Yale in the US. Levy credited this early career time in the US as influential in forging long-standing research collaborations and publications.

Returning to Australia, she joined the School of Psychiatry in the University of New South Wales in 1972 and embarked on a long, highly fruitful research career, earning national and international acclaim for her outstanding work on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Under this banner, Levy assiduously tackled subjects as diverse as hyperkinesis and diet, genetics, diagnosis and classification, the mechanism of action of stimulants, sex differences, the question of attention in children, and much else.

Flo Levy passionate about research into ADHD.

Flo Levy passionate about research into ADHD.

She wrote several papers on brain function in ADHD, as well as completing a Masters and PhD late in life. Such was her dedication to research that she would fund studies into ADHD from her own pocket when she was unable to secure external funding.

Her outstanding contribution to understanding ADHD included a strong defence for its public acceptance as a valid disorder for treatment, countering many powerful political forces detracting from this.

Levy’s research interests, however, were extensive as well as concentrated. For example, her analyses of the development of bird song and its implications for neural models of attention, language and memory in humans, which she explored in her PhD later in her life, were truly innovative. She was a visionary and wrote about a project for a scientific psychiatry in the 21st century.

Her passion for science was equalled by her passion for her patients. She was a staunch advocate of children with mental health problems, a neglected group in terms of resources. In her clinical role for 40 years at Prince of Wales/Sydney Children’s Hospitals, she showed unswerving, passionate commitment to treating and advocating for this group at all levels. She was absolutely devoted to and single-minded about this work, dedicating long hours as a clinician-researcher: many former patients have testified to her exceptional care.

She was also a pioneer and strong advocate for woman academics, a trailblazer for physician researchers, an inspiration for the many clinicians she worked with and a role model for several generations of child psychiatrists and female psychiatrists she trained or mentored.

In an era where the need for child psychiatrists greatly exceeds their availability, Levy championed and pursued the renewal of her discipline of child psychiatry by pursuing the highest standards of clinical training and practice through teaching, supervision and national and state committee memberships.

Although Levy”s research and her patients were the great passion of her life, she had very broad interests from politics and social justice to travel, languages and the arts relishing film, theatre, galleries and undertaking Italian studies.

With all her achievements and inspirational work, Levy remained humble and approachable: wise, honest, gifted clinically, generous and kind with work colleagues and patients alike. She was courageous in her final struggle with brain cancer; whatever her internal struggles.

She was attempting to finish projects until the last week of her life. Even after falling ill she was shuffling data and discussing ideas for her next paper on gender differences in language development, which sadly did not eventuate. She viewed her career as a great privilege and was an inspiration to all.

She is survived by her niece Amanda (Mandy), and nephews Mark and Alex.

Amanda Levy, Valsa Eapen, Philip Mitchell, Mark Dadds, Philippa Levy and Michael Dudley

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