Act for change – to realise the vision of mental health reform

Act for change – to realise the vision of mental health reform

Wednesday, 23 June 2021

We recently hosted an online panel discussion, to help inform the development of the 2022 Mental Health and Wellbeing Act – a key recommendation of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System.

More than 270 people attended the discussion, including mental health system consumers, clinicians, mental health community service providers, government officials, and representatives from the Mental Health Tribunal, Mental Health Complaints Commission, the Law Institute of Victoria and the legal assistance sector.

‘We were delighted to see so much interest in the role the new Act should play in helping to realise the vision of the Royal Commission,’ said Rowan McRae, Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) Executive Director, Civil Justice, Access and Equity.

‘This includes building a new system with embedded consumer leadership, rights and accountability,’ said Rowan.

Health Department Deputy Secretary Katherine Whetton opened the event by outlining the government’s approach to implementing the Royal Commission’s recommendations.

‘The Act is just one part of the work to deliver on the Royal Commission's recommendations for a new system but as we know, the legislation is and should be a powerful tool for change,’ Katherine told the event.

Public consultations are open on the new Act. Have your say through the Engage Victoria website by 1 August 2021.

VLA’s Program Manager, Mental Health and Disability Advocacy, Sonia Law, facilitated the discussion between consumer leader, Maggie Toko, Victorian Mental Illness Awareness Council (VMIAC) Deputy Chair, Dr Chris Maylea, and Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists Victoria Branch Deputy Chair Dr Kerryn Rubin.

The panel shared their hopes for the 2022 legislation to achieve what the Mental Health Act 2014 did not.

‘It would be wonderful if the new act had a platform that provided a robust point of reference that enabled accountability as one of its top measures,’ said Maggie.

‘We know that despite the intentions of the legislation, to promote and enable voluntary treatment, the system often defaults to compulsory treatment. And the likelihood of someone being treated compulsorily varies from place to place,’ said Sonia.

All panellists highlighted the importance of the Act embedding the meaningful involvement of consumers in the design and delivery of future mental health services.

They also discussed the need for consumers to understand and assert their rights and to be supported to make decisions about their treatment.

“Co-production and co-design is not having a token representative person but about embedding people with lived experience and clinical experience in all of these structures, because it is working together that we come up with practical solutions that we can put in place to make things better for people,’ said Kerryn.

Chris was more pessimistic about the prospects for change, noting that under the proposed new Act, mental health consumers still won’t have the same rights as other health patients.

‘We need at least equal rights for people in the mental health system, we need binding statements and we need to do these things now not in 10 years,’ Chris said.

The panel also discussed the need for cultural change, driven by greater investment in resources, training and education to accompany the new Act.

‘Legislation alone cannot achieve the cultural and practice change that we need to see so that the system works for consumers, and overcomes the problems highlighted by the Royal Commission,’ said Sonia.

‘Mental health services need to be supported with resources and training to implement the new Act in a way that will embed those cultural and practical changes.’

More information

Have your say on the new Mental Health and Wellbeing Act.

Read our recommendations to build a better mental health system for all Victorians. 

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