Australian Rotary Health was founded by Ian Scott, a member of the Rotary Club of Mornington, Victoria. In 1981, Scott was so moved by the impact of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) on families that he resolved to set up a fund to support research on this and other family health problems.
This resulted in the establishment of ARH with Past Rotary International President Royce Abbey as the inaugural chair of the board. The Fund offered its first research grants in 1985. The Fund initially supported research on sudden infant death syndrome, including a project which showed that prone sleeping position of the infant was a major risk factor. An information campaign following this research led to a rapid fall in the deaths from SIDS in Australia.
From 2000, it began to specialise in support for mental illness research in recognition of the adverse effects that mental illness had on the health and wellbeing of children, youth and adults in Australia.
ARH is currently the largest non-government funder of mental health research in Australia.