A former Auckland psychiatrist who pioneered greater family involvement in the care of mentally unwell relatives has died in his adopted home of Italy.

Ian Falloon, an emeritus professor of Auckland University, died last week aged 61 from complications of cancer.

He was head of the university's department of psychiatry and behavioural science from 1992 to 1995.

"He was one of the first to suggest that families should be involved in the treatment of schizophrenia," said Professor Rob Kydd, who replaced Professor Falloon at the head of what is now called the department of psychological medicine.

"He published a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine that was quite seminal regarding that."

Professor Falloon was among the first to introduce the so-called psycho-educational approach, trying to give patients and their families the skills to manage the condition themselves, teaching them about medication and how to set goals and solve problems.

He also tried to get GPs involved in caring for mental health clients.

He was involved in numerous training and research programmes including an international research project on treatment, of which North Shore-based mental health service provider Equip is a part.

"His particular focus was involving families in all of those evidence-based treatments," said Equip trainer and researcher Robyn Gedye.

Professor Falloon, a cousin of the late National Party Cabinet minister John Falloon, was born in Wairarapa and studied medicine at Otago University before training in Britain to become a specialist psychiatrist.

The family support group Schizophrenia Fellowship brought him back to New Zealand in 1992 to train its staff.

Professor Falloon's approach was not without controversy.

His predecessor at Auckland University, Emeritus Professor John Werry, said: "He was a pioneer in community rehabilitation and management of those with chronic psychiatric disability, but it was felt by his colleagues that his enthusiasm for his techniques outran the evidence to support their value and efficacy."