Content warning: this article includes information you may find triggering, including ways in which mental health services stigmatise and discriminate against people with lived experience of mental or emotional distress.
After working with the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System over the past year to ensure the lived experience voice was central to the mental health system’s reform, we have recently submitted a response related to issues affecting consumer labelled with ‘serious and persistent mental illness.’
The Commission requested a response from us to various questions, including “What types of concerns and hopes do consumers with multiple support needs raise with us?”, “What (if any) do consumers see working well?”, “How would we describe human rights interfacing with consumer experiences?”, and more.
We were best placed to answer these questions as we have worked with people most harmed and disadvantaged by the mental health system, since 1981. Our Advocacy Services, for both individuals and NDIS participants, helped us identify the main areas of concern, as well as our regular interaction with the community of people with lived experience of mental or emotional distress through our Policy and Communications work.
In our response to the Commission, we highlight the importance of language in understanding and responding to distress at relational, organisation, and systemic levels. The research we previously conducted for The Declaration gave us great insight into the language our members would like to see used when referring to their mental distress.
The main points raised in our response were the key concerns and human rights issues that people with mental distress experience. Understanding that each person with lived experience has diverse views and preferences, we utilised The Declaration research to highlight the main concerns and issues arising. These included how we want others to understand and describe our experiences, how society should change, the kinds of people and values needed for support, and many more.
We must ensure that the mental health system, as well as communities and government, do not rely on restrictive biomedical models, but draw on a diversity of approaches. We must eliminate all legal forms of force used against consumers and embed the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic) into all mental health services, regulators and, government departments.
We recommend to the Royal Commission that mental health services work on stigma and discrimination against people labelled with SPMI challenges, rather than reinforcing biomedical accounts of distress. To do this they must challenge stigmatising language and ensure consumers lead and co-design all anti-stigma efforts, to safeguard against the harms associated with restrictive biomedical approaches.
We also recommend that the Royal Commission’s broader work must provide a balanced approach to mental and emotional distress, by reframing identified ‘problems’ and ‘solutions’ in language that reflects the social model of disability and human rights; as well as ensuring that recommendations challenge the primacy of biomedical approached to distress.