Compassion and respect to guide the creation of a new mental health system

Compassion and respect to guide the creation of a new mental health system

Tuesday, 2 March 2021

We warmly welcome the final report of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System (RCVMHS) as a landmark opportunity to establish a new mental health system that is driven by people with lived experience and focuses on their rights and recovery.

The final report contains a total of 65 recommendations to transform the way people access the assistance that is best suited to their individual needs, when and where they need it.

Responding to the final report, Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) Chief Executive Officer Louise Glanville said ‘This report represents a significant and welcome shift in the way our community will respond to people experiencing mental health issues.

‘We are pleased to see the RCVMHS recognise that a new system must be built on compassion and connection, and that people with a lived experience of mental health issues must play a central role in implementing these wide-ranging reforms,’ said Ms Glanville.

Senior Consumer Consultant with our Independent Mental Health Advocacy (IMHA) service, Wanda Bennetts said, ‘The report has been tabled and there is hope for some real change, so now the task is to make sure things are implemented in a way to make that happen.

‘It is time to slow down and take the time to ensure the processes for change address the power imbalances of the past and are truly informed and driven by those who will use the services.’

The final report recommendations include:

  • A new Mental Health and Wellbeing Act to provide the basis for transformational reform.
  • An independent Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission, including a Commissioner with lived experience, to improve the quality and safety of the system and monitor the Victorian Government’s progress in implementing the recommendations.
  • Targets to reduce the use and duration of compulsory treatment, and to work towards eliminating the use of seclusion and restraint.
  • Ensuring people at risk of or subject to compulsory treatment can access non-legal advocacy.
  • Increased access to legal assistance for people subject to compulsory treatment.
  • Increased mental health support for people in custody and when they transition out of prison.
  • Recognition of the importance of responding to trauma through the creation of a statewide trauma service.
  • Specific measures to address stigma and systemic mental health discrimination.

‘The final report places human rights at the centre of the new system, emphasising that rates of compulsory treatment must be radically reduced, and it must only be used as a last resort,’ said Ms Glanville.

‘I was particularly pleased to see the commissioners acknowledge the importance of self-determination in recommending new healing centres drawing on Aboriginal knowledge of the role of connection to community and country to support social and emotional wellbeing.’

The report also acknowledges that people need assistance in their local communities that is tailored to their individual needs, and that access to safe, stable and affordable housing is vital to people’s wellbeing.

‘When people do receive treatment in mental health services, the final report emphasises that services must be safe and trauma-informed with measures to prevent gender-based violence.’

Increased access to support

We welcome the recognition that IMHA provides crucial support to people at risk of or subject to compulsory treatment.

‘IMHA advocates help people to understand their rights and supports them to have a genuine say in their treatment and recovery,’ said Ms Glanville.

‘We’re heartened to see recommendations to ensure those who want support from IMHA will be able to access it.’

The final report also recognises that legal assistance provides clear benefits to people facing compulsory treatment orders, and it should be adequately resourced to make it more widely available.

Criminal justice system reform

We welcome the final report’s recognition that, where possible, health professionals should lead the emergency services’ response to people experiencing mental health crises.

‘The recommendations in the final report will help to reduce the disproportionate number of people living with mental health issues who come into contact with the criminal justice system,’ said Ms Glanville.

We also welcome the proposed expansion of the specialist Assessment and Referral Court (ARC) to the 12 headquarter Magistrates’ Courts across Victoria.

‘Problem-solving or therapeutic courts like ARC provide intensive and personalised support to help people in the criminal justice system address the underlying issues which have contributed to their offending.’

‘We also welcome the recommendations to expand specialist youth forensic mental health programs across the state to support young people in the justice system,’ said Ms Glanville.

The report also recognises that people with mental health issues in prison need transitional and ongoing support once they are released from custody.

Implementation

We look forward to working with the state government, Mental Health Reform Victoria, mental health services and our partners in the legal sector to implement these important recommendations.

‘Most of all we look forward to working with our friends and allies from consumer and lived experience organisations and networks who bring vital expertise to this work,’ said Ms Glanville.

Approximately 25 per cent of the people we assist each year disclose a mental health issue or a disability.

Every day, lawyers and IMHA non-legal advocates across our criminal, family and civil law practice see the impact an under-resourced and poorly designed mental health system can have on someone’s ability to live well in the community.

We are hopeful that these recommendations from the RCVMHS will transform the mental health system to benefit the whole community.

More information

Read about our recommendations to the RCVMHS.

Learn more about the experiences of people who have used the mental health system in our Your story, your say report.

Media contact

For media enquiries please contact Naomi Woodley, Acting Manager, Media and Communications on 0409 281 304 or by email Naomi.Woodley@vla.vic.gov.au.

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