The provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to look at the system response to people with mental health issues that is not currently working to support people’s personal recovery and is at times harmful. In the words of our Senior Consumer Consultant Wanda Bennetts:
‘Now is the time for a total rethink and genuine culture shift. We need more services, better services and importantly, we also need alternative services. Let those of us most impacted by the system lead the way in designing a new system that works for us. We want services that are amazing – that you would consider good enough for yourself or your families and friends.’
Victoria Legal Aid’s (VLA) submission to the royal commission is titled Roads to Recovery: Building a Better System for People Experiencing Mental Health Issues in Victoria. As a part of our ongoing commitment to listening to our clients and consumers and making their diverse needs our priority, we’ve included the stories of 24 people in our submission. Their stories paint a picture of diverse lives, strengths and challenges.
People’s lived experience at the centre
The experience that unifies them is that, at points in their lives, the mental health system – and the systems that intersect with it – have failed to understand and meet their needs. The hardship that our clients and consumers have experienced as a result of these system failures reminds us all that widescale, systemic change is essential and urgent.
Last year, we worked with almost 24,000 people who identified as experiencing a mental health issue or disability. We see in our work every day the intersection between people’s mental health and other social, economic and legal issues. A lack of access to housing, disability services, employment, income support and mental health services can collide with experiences of isolation, family violence and discrimination, threatening people’s mental health and undermining their recovery.
Tomorrow afternoon our CEO, Louise Glanville, will appear before the royal commission to provide evidence in person. Louise will draw on our submission to the royal commission and will encourage framing the review of the mental health system within a social model of health, rather than a purely medical model.
‘We need a system-wide review with the person at the centre that encourages consideration of the different social, economic and legal factors that affect a person’s wellbeing. A social model of health will also shift from a deficit model focused on symptoms to a focus on people’s strengths,’ said Louise.
‘When the system lets people down – through gaps or failures in services and support –problems can escalate, leading to family breakdown, homelessness, criminal offending, removal of children, loss of income or employment and hospitalisation.
‘Once people have entered crisis-based systems, their exit, reintegration and recovery are again dependent on access to adequate housing and supports in the community, said Louise.
Six priority areas for reform
Informed by the experiences and expertise of our clients and consumers, our submission identifies six priority areas for reform to help build a system that supports people's choices and their recovery in ways that enable them to live the best lives they can, as determined by them:
- building a mental health system that is focused on recovery
- embedding consumer leadership and advocacy as part of a rights-focused system
- reducing the harm of criminal justice involvement for people experiencing mental health issues
- improving the responses of other systems and services to mental health
- reducing inequalities and developing tailored, culturally safe services
- strengthening governance, accountability, data and transparency.
This is the first in a series of short articles drawing on our six key areas of focus from our submission to the royal commission, which we will be sharing over the next three months.
We look forward to working with the royal commission and with our consumers, clients and partners across the legal, health and community sectors, to help build a system that meets the needs of the Victorian community.
Read our submission
Reviewed 12 May 2022