New independent mental health advocacy service kicks off

New independent mental health advocacy service kicks off

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Independent Mental Health Advocacy was officially launched by the Minister for Mental Health, the Hon Martin Foley, at an event in Melbourne last night.

The potential of the service to support people subject to compulsory treatment to be heard was welcomed by speakers, and the 80 guests which included consumers who had advised on its set-up and service providers.

They heard moving stories from people who have been through the experience of being treated against their will about its devastating impact, and their excitement about the potential of the new service to make a difference.

Hon Martin Foley, Helen Makregiorgos and Bevan Warner at the launch
Minister for Mental Health, the Hon Martin Foley, IMHA Manager Helen Makregiorgos, Victoria Legal Aid Managing Director Bevan Warner

Minister Martin Foley introduces the new service

Mr Foley said that the start of the service and the Mental Health Act 2014 were just the beginning of a journey which should continue to push the boundaries of the rights of people subject to compulsory treatment.

He said that services needed to have people at their heart, and their voices must be heard, understood, acted on and taken seriously. ‘They are not just case notes, but people and citizens, and their best chance to recover is if they are centrally involved.’

Consumer academic Cath Roper shared her own experiences of compulsory mental health treatment. She said these made the launch of the service ‘precious and emotional, and the most significant event of my 20 years of advocacy.’

Ms Roper said that she had ‘felt like garbage’ after being taken away, handcuffed and bruised, in the back of a police divvy van for involuntary treatment. ‘I was assisted at the time by an advocate who believed in me, was in my corner and could look at me from a perspective that wasn’t just medical.’

A good fit for Victoria Legal Aid

Managing Director Victoria Legal Aid Bevan Warner said that our new services matches with our key organisational values: ‘Fairness, for the 10,000 people who are subject to compulsory treatment each year. Courage, to stand with them as they speak up about what they need, even when services and families have different views. And care, to support them through what we know is a lonely and distressing time.’

Cath Roper, Bevan Warner, and the Hon Martin Foley at the launch. Wild at Heart performers
Left: Consumer academic Cath Roper, Victoria Legal Aid Managing Director Bevan Warner, Minister for Mental Health, the Hon Martin Foley. Right: Wild at Heart performers Philip Heuzenroeder and Heidi Everett

After the formalities, a rollicking performance from Wild at Heart community arts group captured the mood of optimism about the new service.

Performers Phil Heuzenroeder and Heidi Everett, who has herself experienced compulsory treatment, spoke about the stigma that so often accompanies mental illness.

Through her music Heidi also invited the audience to ‘shine a light’ that would pave the way for people who had experienced the isolation and stigma of compulsory treatment.

More information

For more about our new service see the Independent Mental Health Advocacy website.