Victoria Legal Aid

Building a recovery-focused mental health system

Victoria's mental health system should be focused on recovery, to support people to manage their own health in the way they have identified works for them.

Wednesday 24 July 2019 12:00am

This is the second in a series of short articles drawing on our six key areas of focus from our submission to the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System.

The mental health system should support people to manage their own health in a way that they have identified works for them.

In our submission Roads to Recovery: Building a Better System for People Experiencing Mental Health Issues in Victoria, we have identified this as our first priority area for reform, because currently the system is not focused on rights, recovery and self-determination.

In 2014, a new Mental Health Act was introduced with the promise of improving the autonomy, protections, and health and social outcomes for people who use mental health services in Victoria.

But five years on, there is still heavy reliance on crisis-based, compulsory treatment that takes away people’s self-determination.

‘The cultural change needed to support recovery and focus on rights has not taken place.’

Rowan McRae, Victoria Legal Aid Executive Director of Civil Justice, Access and Equity

‘Compulsory, rather than voluntary, treatment continues to be higher in Victoria than other states and territories.

‘We have low rates of advocacy and representation for people facing compulsory treatment - the Royal Commission should not miss the opportunity to change this,’ said Rowan.

Our submission recommends three priorities for building a recovery-focused mental health system:

  • Supporting people to manage their own health in the way that they have identified works for them, including flexibility for support and treatment to be ‘flexed’ up and down to maintain a person’s health.
  • Realising the rights and recovery focus of the Mental Health Act 2014 (Vic), including embedding the principles of least restriction and supported decision-making, where rights are maximised, and compulsory treatment is truly a last resort.
  • Regulating treatment and intervention to support autonomy and dignity and reduce as far as possible the negative impact of compulsory treatment when it does happen.

In 2017–18, our lawyers and our Independent Mental Health Advocacy service advocates worked with thousands of people in every designated mental health service in Victoria including adolescent, adult and aged, and long-term secure extended care units, as well as at Thomas Embling Hospital.

In our submission, we note that the current mental health system holds few options for people who need an intermediate level of support, not crisis-based care. We need more community-based support to ensure people don’t end up in crisis or can return to the community when they are ready.

We have identified six priorities for change to build a better mental health system and we look forward to continuing to work with the royal commission and with our consumers, clients and partners across the legal, health and community sectors.

More information

Read more about our submission to the Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health System.

Read more at the Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health System websiteExternal Link .

Reviewed 19 April 2022