More lived experience, careful use of compulsory treatment wanted in mental health act

By Jackson Graham

Thursday December 9, 2021

James Merlino
Victorian mental health minister James Merlino. (AAP Image/Daniel Pockett)

Half of the people in new governance structures overseeing Victoria’s mental health system should have lived experience of mental illness, a department has heard.

The Victorian Department of Health has acknowledged it has more work to do to refine changes to compulsory treatment and assessment in a new Mental Health and Wellbeing Act. 

The department received 283 written submissions in preparation for the new legislation, with the need for lived experience in governance roles a standout finding. 

Victoria’s Mental Health Royal Commission has proposed new government entities, including a Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission, a chief officer for mental health and wellbeing, regional mental health and wellbeing boards, statewide regional multi-agency panels and Collaborative Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing. 

The department’s consultation paper found 50% of positions in the new governance structures should be made up of people with lived experience. It states a minimum of at least two people with lived experience and two people who have been carers in the new entities. 

The government last month appointed its first director of lived experience, Mary O’Hagan, to bring the perspective of someone who had experienced a mental health condition to the state’s services and policies.    

The department also heard from 49% of respondents who answered that they not did think changes to compulsory treatment met recommendations from the royal commission. 

The royal commission has aimed to reduce compulsory treatment, and the department is proposing to tighten the wording of legislation to require the intervention to be based on preventing the person experiencing “serious distress”. 

It is also proposing the risk of harm to the individual or another person should be “serious and imminent” and that all other avenues for support or treatment have been eliminated. 

But the consultation showed opposing views on reducing compulsory treatment; however, there is broad support for increased oversight, reporting and monitoring. 

The government has committed to an independent review next year of compulsory treatment criteria and alignment of mental health laws with other decision-making laws, after the parliament has passed the new Act. 

Mental health minister James Merlino said the government was listening to all views as it developed the new Act. 

“It’s wonderful to see how passionate people are about helping design our new system,” he said.


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