Authors: Illawarra Area Mental Health Services, Illawarra Institute for Mental Health, University of Wollongong
Event: 2004 TheMHS Awards
Type of resource: TheMHS Awards
Award state: NSW
Award level: Winner
Award category: Consumer-Run Program or Service
Abstract: The principal aim of the Consumer Evaluation of Mental Health Services (CEO-MHS) program has been to develop an evaluation framework and consumer-constructed questionnaire that can be used by mental health consumers, clinicians and managers to evaluate mental health services from a consumer perspective. The novel approach of this program involves training consumers as researchers so they can take a more meaningful and prominent role in the development of the framework and questionnaire. As part of the overall program, a specific research project was funded in 2001 by an Australian Research Council Strategic Partnerships with Industry in Research and Training (ARC-SPIRT). The partners to the grant included mental health consumers and academics associated with the Illawarra Institute for Mental Health (iiMH) and the Illawarra Area Health Service (IAHS). The project has made an important contribution to mental health services not only in terms of its final outcomes and outputs, including the evaluation framework and consumer-constructed questionnaire, but also through the process of active consumer involvement and partnership in the overall program as described below. Description of Facility/Organisation: The Illawarra Institute for Mental Health, University of Wollongong, established the Consumer Directed Research Group comprising three academics, two mental health consumers, and a representative of the Illawarra Area Health Service. The CEO-MHS program, including the specific research requirements of the ARC project not only aimed to develop an evaluation framework and questionnaire but to demonstrate genuine consumer involvement within mainstream research, ie to demonstrate that consumers are not just passive “subjects”. Consumers have been involved in all aspects of the research process including (a) pre-grant planning (b) grant submission (c) project management (d) research assistant recruitment (e) data collection (f) results interpretation (f) conference presentations (g) journal publications; (h) future submissions for grant funding (i) availing consumers of the same intellectual community, support and resources open to academic and student researchers and (j) employing the consumer researchers within the University rather than in the Health Service, providing them with the autonomy to comment on the service. The initial funding proposal submitted in 1999 was not considered by the ARC and instead was passed on to the National Health and Medical Research Council because it concerned a “medical” issue. It became clear to the group that the members of the ARC panel, who were largely non-medical scientists, did not understand the significance of the project, and that the very reason that consumers’ views were viewed from a medical perspective may have been disempowering. For this reason a second proposal was submitted in 2000 with the controversial title “Are crazies credible?” This proposal received unanimous support and was funded in the 2001 round. The funding issues discussed illustrate the difficulties experienced by the team in launching this project, but also demonstrates the effectiveness of partnership.