Early intervention and community-based programs critical for mental health system

Early intervention and community-based programs critical for mental health system

Friday, 7 June 2019

In recent community consultation sessions for the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System our staff have highlighted the need for early intervention and community-based treatment programs to support people to live well in the community.

Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) lawyers and staff from our Independent Mental Health Advocacy (IMHA) service joined service providers, consumers and carers at sessions across Victoria, including Mildura, Warrnambool, Ballarat and Sale, to share practical examples of the way in which the mental health system could be improved to get better outcomes for the people at its centre.

‘Consumers need to have genuine choices regarding their mental health. This includes choices around treatment, and a whole range of support services, from housing, education, justice and others,’ Wanda Bennetts, IMHA senior consumer consultant said.

‘These need to be better co-ordinated to ensure people have the support they want, when they need it, and not automatically funnelled into the medical system.

‘Consumers must have a meaningful say in the way the mental health system is designed,’ Wanda said.

Our staff consistently noted that having safe and secure housing is an essential part of addressing mental health issues.

We also note the injustice of a person’s postcode affecting the services available to them, including the general lack of mental health and therapeutic justice programs available to people outside of metropolitan Melbourne.

There is an over-representation of people in the criminal justice system with a mental health issue.

‘There is an insufficient understanding of the link between mental health issues and legal problems, and how to divert people from the criminal justice system,’ Madeline Ryan, a senior laywer at the Bail and Remand Court said.

Too often mental health issues are not identified early enough, and people don’t get the support they need before it gets to criminal justice system. More discretion is also required by police and enforcement agencies when someone’s mental health issue is linked to their conduct.

‘I have lost count of the number of times I have stood before a Magistrate and said that we are having to use the blunt tool of the criminal justice system to deal with mental health issues,’ senior lawyer Tim Tyler, from our Ballarat office said.

Most people with a mental health issue are not violent and do not engage in criminal activity, and they need a health system that supports the choices they want to make about their treatment and recovery.

In 2017–18, over one quarter of our clients from across our criminal law, family law, child protection and civil justice work disclosed having a disability or a mental health issue.

We look forward to making a formal submission and to working with our partners in the legal, health and community sectors to inform to the Royal Commission and reform Victoria’s mental health system.

More information

Read more about our contribution to the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System.

Read more about Mental Health and your rights.

Read about our Independent Mental Health Advocacy Service.


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