Speakers: Peter McGeorge, Tim Heffernan, Taimi Allan, Paula Hanlon and Eduardo Vega
In 1993 a document addressing the barriers to consumer participation in services was published by the World Health Organization. Some 23 years on this panel of outspoken service leaders asks the question “do these barriers still exist for those of us working in consumer leadership roles in mental health services?
It can’t really be argued that money, lack of information, process, representation, role and isolation have all featured prominently for those who have undertaken the difficult task of carving out a career in consumer roles. Do these barriers truly still exist? For many it would seem so, my personal experience is that we have come far with many of these issues and they don’t feature in the same ways that we were subject to more than two decades ago.
That aside, what continues to be evident is in the face of what can sometimes be tremendous obstacles, consumer leaders on both sides of the ditch have strong and powerful voices, prepared to speak out against adversity, to reject the sense of isolation and intimidation that often accompanies the difficult roles we participate in, and to continue fighting discrimination asserting ourselves as equals.
Looking across the room there is comfort in the knowledge that so many people within the sector wear their hearts on their sleeve and are there to speak for those who are not yet able to do so for themselves, and that this is done authentically and powerfully, with honesty, integrity and dignity.
As I sit here reflecting on the leaders we have been privileged to hear from, I wonder about where the responsibility for consumer participation lies. Surely ensuring consumer participation belongs to all of us working the field of mental health and addiction services. How do each of us, individually and collectively, contribute to ensuring authentic consumer participation is part and parcel of service improvement?