Victoria Legal Aid

New Mental Health Act to lay foundation for system change

The new Mental Health and Wellbeing Act 2022 is a first step in the journey to transform Victoria’s mental health system into one that has consumer rights and lived experience expertise at its centre

Tuesday 30 August 2022 5:31am

We welcome the passing of the Mental Health and Wellbeing Act through the Victorian Parliament as a first step in the journey to further improve a system that is not currently working to support people’s personal recovery.

It also sees the commencement of an Independent Review of Compulsory Treatment Criteria and Alignment of Decision-making Laws.

The passing of the legislation marks an important milestone after many years of advocacy, following the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health SystemExternal Link and extensive ongoing engagement with sector and consumer experts.

As the largest provider of legal and non-legal advocacy services for people with mental health issues in Victoria, we see the new Act – which repeals the previous Mental Health Act 2014 (Vic) – as a next step towards further reform for a redesigned mental health and wellbeing system that is accountable, transparent and supports a consumer-driven approach.

Drawing from the combined expertise of lived experience experts, non-legal advocates and specialist lawyers, we will continue its advocacy for a consumer-driven, rights-based mental health system in the implementation of the new Act.

Centring consumer rights

‘Given IMHA has been a shining light in the very broken and often demoralising mental health system, I am extremely excited that opt-out non-legal advocacy will be a strong new feature in the new Mental Health and Wellbeing Act. An opt-out model will be life changing for many people and potentially culture changing for the system.’

Wanda Bennetts, Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) and Independent Mental Health Advocacy (IMHA) Senior Consumer Consultant

We welcome the Act recognising the role non-legal advocacy plays in supporting consumers to know their rights and be supported to enact them, including by introducing an opt-out non-legal advocacy model that will ensure all consumers subject to or at risk of compulsory treatment are offered non-legal advocacy and can access it if they choose to.

Since 2015, Independent Mental Health Advocacy has supported thousands of Victorians to have as much say as possible about their assessment, treatment and recovery options while receiving or being at risk of compulsory mental health treatment.

An independent evaluationExternal Link demonstrated that IMHA has been instrumental in upholding people’s rights.

'We are excited to see non-legal advocacy become opt-out, so that the thousands of consumers who currently do not know about the service or have been unable to access it will now be able to,' said IMHA Program Manager Helen Makregiorgos.

'In partnership with lived experience experts, IMHA has worked over the past few years to support a mental health system that is rights – and personal recovery-driven.'

'We hope the new Act will support the cultural shift needed to fully achieve this.'

Independent review into compulsory mental health treatment criteria

The first step in this reform is the Independent Review of Compulsory Treatment Criteria and Alignment of Decision-making Laws.

We welcome this being brought forward, and support the strengthening of principles, amending the criteria and providing statutory guidance to radically reduce compulsory treatment.

‘With the passing of the Mental Health and Wellbeing Act 2022, we are looking forward to the independent review of compulsory treatment, and hope to see further changes to the Act, which will lead to a reduction of compulsory treatment, used only as a last resort, and therefore reduction of harm as a result.' – A Speaking From Experience member (consumer expert)

The work of the Independent Review will be guided by Terms of Reference developed by consumers, families, carers, supporters, workers and service providers.

Continued advocacy

While the new Act has the potential to provide the foundations for a redesigned system that is rights-based and consumer-driven, there are a number of areas where the Act does not go as far as VLA – and many consumers – had hoped.

We will continue to advocate for further reform, including in the lead-up to the five-year review of the Act, by highlighting key themes needed to realise the vision of the royal commission and the hopes of consumers, particularly in the areas of supported decision-making, governance and oversight, transparency, and seclusion and restraint.

More information

Learn more about Speaking From ExperienceExternal Link .

Reviewed 31 August 2022