History of Consumer lived experience work in Victoria

People with a consumer lived experience were first employed in Victorian Mental Health services in 1996. Four roles were created at Royal Melbourne Hospital following the completion of the Understanding and Involvement Project. (Epstein & Wadsworth, 1994). These roles, originally called Consumer Staff Collaboration Consultants were initiated in 1996 to lead quality improvement projects in each area mental health service. Within a short time, the funding for the positions became recurrent and the title shortened to Consumer Consultants. These roles were often isolated and evolved in unique ways that were dependant on: the management of the service, the consumers’ needs within the service, and the individuals filling the roles.

In 2002, North Western Mental Health, implemented the first leadership role for consumer workers. The Consumer Advisor position sat on the executive team and while initially was only for 2 hours a month over time it grew to the current role of .6 EFT. In 2005 Southern Health introduced a Director, Consumer and Carer Relations, this full-time executive management position managed the lived experience workforce, led the strategic development of consumer and family/carer participation and involvement, and managed the brokerage funds and consumer complaints. Around 2007-8 North Western Mental Health and Southern Health initiated small projects exploring peer support in inpatient settings, but these projects did not gain recurrent funding and were ceased. In the following years clinical services undertook more explorations of peer support but with no identified funding stream these failed to gain ground. Austin Health also introduced a senior position of Consumer and Carer Coordinator in 2010, with management of the Consumer and Carer Consultants.

During this time several services in the community, at the time called Psychiatric Disability Rehabilitation and Support services, now called Mental Health Community Support Services (MHCSS), began to employ consumer workers in peer support roles. In 2006 the Personal Helpers and Mentors (PhaMs) program was introduced and the employment of peer support workers in MHCSS significantly increased.

Victoria’s10 year mental health plan and Mental health workforce strategy (2015) identified the importance of growing and developing the lived experience workforce.

In 2016, the Department of Health funded a new program, the Expanding Post Discharge Support, which has resulted in a rapid growth in the lived experience workforce in clinical mental health services.

With the implementation of the NDIS, and the lack of a clearly identified funding line for peer support work, organisations in the community sector are exploring how to utilise dedicated lived experience roles. Many services are replacing lived experience positions with generic support worker roles thereby reducing their complement of dedicated lived experience workers.

Key events in mental health and lived experience work in Victoria and Australia

1843Dangerous Lunatics Act (1843) led to establishment of Yarra Bend Lunatic Asylum
1867An Act of parliament requires people with mental illness to be sent to asylums instead of prisons
1870s– 1880sLunacy Acts and Insanity Acts passed in Australian states. In 1870, 1 in 397 people in Vic were classified as insane. In 1888 there were 3,634 registered insane people in Vic. Vic was named the ‘maddest colony’
1930Victorian Association for Mental Health established to give public voice to concerns
1945UN Declaration of Human Rights
1957GROW, a peer support program for growth and personal development of people with a ‘mental illness’, founded in Sydney
1958Mental Hygiene Authority holds the first Victorian Mental Health Week
1960s – 1970sClosure of large mental hospitals around the world (deinstitutionalisation) largely driven by economic and political incentives First consumer organisation in Australia – Campaign Against Psychiatric Injustice and Coercion (CAPIC) established
1978Schizophrenia Fellowship of Victoria was founded and incorporated
1979Victorian Association of Relatives and Friends of the Emotionally and Mentally Ill (ARAFEMI) was formed in Camberwell, using the slogan ‘You are not alone’
1981Victorian Mental Illness Awareness Council (VMIAC) was established
1983The Richmond Report published – a NSW government inquiry into health services for the ‘psychiatrically ill and developmentally disabled’
1991-1994Understanding & Involvement (U&I) – VMIAC’s watershed project focused on participatory action research
1991The first TheMHSConference held in Adelaide SA with 170 delegates and featured Simon Champ as a consumer keynote speaker
1992National Mental Health policy and National Mental Health Strategy
19931st National Mental Health plan (1993 – 1998) released with 12 priority areas including consumer rights and the linking of mental health services with other services Burdekin Report – National Inquiry Concerning the Human Rights of People with Mental Illness found widespread ignorance and discrimination and also stated that consumers and carers should be actively involved in decision- making
1995VMIAC won National Mental Health Strategy Innovative grant for research. The Lemon Tree Learning Project explored ways consumers could be involved in education and training of mental health clinicians
1996First consumer consultants employed at Royal Melbourne Hospital Jon Kroshel, Cath Roper, Robert Blake and Moira Somerville Leonie Manns elected co-chair of World Federation of Psychiatric Users
19982nd National Mental Health Plan
Late 1990s–2000sKey consumer groups established, including: Australian Mental Health Consumer Network (AMHCN)National Community Advisory Group in mental health or NCAGNational Centre for Consumer Participation in Health (NCCPH) established but short-lived Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) nationally funds a new group of consumer workers through Personal Helpers and Mentors Scheme (PHaMS)
2000First Consumer Academic employed at University of Melbourne (Cath Roper)
2001First Consumer Advisor employed at North Western Mental Health (Wanda Bennetts)
2002National Consumer and Carer Forum (NCCF) was developed by peak consumer and carer groups and the Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council Mental Health Standing Committee (AHMAC MHSC). In 2005 NCCF changed its name to the National Mental Health Consumer and Carer Forum (NMHCCF)
2005First consumer employed full-time in mental health executive (Vrinda Edan)
2006National Action Plan on Mental Health (2006–2011) ‘Experiences of Care’ – Partnership between VMIAC and the Mental Health Carers Network of Victoria to design and deliver the consumer and carer experiences of care survey funded by DHS. In 2011 this came to be known as MHECO
2007Australia become one of the first signatories to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) The National Register of Mental Health Consumers and Carers (NRMHCC) formed.
2008DHS employs the first Consumer and Carer Participation Policy Officer with declared lived experience (Keir Saltmarsh)
2012Establishment of the National Mental Health Commission on 1 January Monash Health employed the first consumer and carer peer support workers in clinical bed-based services Consumer Consultants officially included in HACSU award DHHS established consultation meetings called Consumer and Carer Partnership Dialogues to ensure consumer and carer workers had an ongoing opportunity to inform the implementation of mental health initiatives. The Dialogues ceased in 2016
2013National Mental Health Commission funded development of training resources for the nationally recognised Certificate IV in Mental Health Peer Work First PeerZone facilitator training delivered in Melbourne and subsequently PeerZone workshops began to be provided for consumers in Victoria
2014Revised Mental Health Act (Vic) released. The Victorian Mental Health Complaints Commissioner (MHCC) opened. VicServ (now known as Mental Health Vic) commenced training Certificate IV in Mental Health Peer Work
2015-2016Victoria’s 10-year mental health plan released, including a commitment to grow the peer workforce. Post Discharge Support Initiative piloted at St Vincent’s and Goulburn Health. In 2016 the program was rolled out to all adult mental health services, and Orygen youth mental health service. This was the first statewide program to employ peer support workers in clinical mental health services DHHS funded Intentional Peer Support (IPS) 5-day core skills training for peer support workers employed in the Post Discharge Support Program, and 2-day Introduction to IPS for colleagues and managers Consumer Coproduction Workforce Group (later called the Consumer Workforce Development Group) established to identify and facilitate work on consumer workforce development priorities First statewide Consumer and Carer Workforce Development Officers employed (Vrinda Edan and Lorna Downes)
2017Senior Consumer Policy Officer employed by the Office of the Chief Psychiatrist (Julie Anderson)
2018Research – Developing a model for peer support in emergency departments to identify the optimal role for peer workers in emergency departments National Mental Health Commission held a roundtable of peer leaders from across Australia for an initial discussion around development of National Peer Workforce Development Guidelines
2019DHHS fund 6 Prevention and Recovery Centres (PARCS) to employ peer support workers The State-wide Consumer and Family Carer Workforce Development Coordinators incorporated into the Centre for Mental Health Learning, Victoria (CMHL) The Self Help Addiction Resource Centre (SHARC) appointed to establish and host the Australian Hub of Intentional Peer Support (IPS)


Bennetts, W. (2009). Real Lives, Real Jobs. Melbourne: Psychosocial Research Centre.

Bluebird, G (n.d) History of the Consumer/Survivor Movement, online https://www.power2u.org/downloads/HistoryOfTheConsumerMovement.pdf

Epstein, M. (2013). The Consumer Movement In Australia: a memoir of an old campaigner. Melbourne, Our Consumer Place. www.ourcommunity.com.au/files/OCP/HistoryOfConsumerMovement.pdf

Epstein, M., & Wadsworth, Y. (1994). Understanding and Involvement (U&I) –Consumer Evaluation of Acute Psychiatric Hospital Practice: A Project’s Beginning…’, (Vol.1),. Melbourne: VMIAC.

Mental Health Coordinating Council. (2015). Foundations of Peer Work – Part 1: Resource Book. Sydney, Australia: developed on behalf of Community Mental Health Australia for the National Mental Health Commission’s Mental health peer work qualification development project. http://www.mentalhealthcommission.gov.au/our-work/mental-health-peer-work-development-and-promotion.aspx

Rosen, A. (2006). The Australian experience of deinstitutionalization: interaction of Australian culture with the development and reform of its mental health services. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, Supplementum(429): 81-89. www.researchgate.net/publication/7329321_The_Australian_experience_of_deinstitutionalization_Interaction_of_Australian_culture_with_the_development_and_reform_of_its_mental_ health_services

Southern Health. (2010). Instilling Hope: a five year plan for the Consumer and Carer Relations Directorate. Southern Health Consumer & Family / Carer Relations Directorate.

This document is an abridged version of the document https://www.cmhl.org.au/sites/default/files/resources-pdfs/CMHL-PeerInside-HistoryofLEW-v3-20190227.pdf?_ga=2.213011920.574534772.1574729203-684566478.1570171400

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