Let’s Establish A Consumer-Driven Community-Based Service – How Hard Can It Be?

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Authors: Geoff Harris, Robin Cruickshank, Steve Ames, NT

Year: 1998

Event: 1998 TheMHS Conference

Subject: book of proceedings, consumer driven services, community based service, Mental Health Association of Central Australia in Alice Springs

Type of resource: Conference Presentations and Papers

Abstract: Now that the Burdekin Report and the National Mental Health Strategy have championed the rights of consumers and community-based services, it should be easy to establish such services where there is a clear need. Right? Those of us who have tried it know how frustrating it can be. While some mental health professionals are sympathetic to the new dogmas of mental health, the bureaucratic and political processes have not necessarily changed. Consumers now have the legitimate audacity to advocate for their own priorities, however this requires major persistence, energy and vision over an extended period just to overcome ordinary bureaucratic inertia. This paper outlines the experiences of the Mental Health Association of Central Australia in Alice Springs of establishing a rehabilitation service along consumer-driven Clubhouse lines. These experiences highlight the fact that consumers not only need a vision of what they want, they also need to know how to get it. Understanding the local politics, bureaucratic processes and timelines is essential. Also essential are the skills to write submissions, argue with health professionals, organise public meetings and deal with the media. Keeping up morale and enthusiasm over an extended period is also difficult. Not only is this very hard for consumers, it places mental health workers in a dilemma. The status quo is that clinical mental health services are ‘core’ while other services tend to take a lesser priority when it comes to allocating resources; a situation not necessarily supported by consumers. The consumer push for reallocation of resources poses a vexing problem for bureaucratic bean counters. Should resources be allocated according to the priorities of health professionals or consumers? The intent of this paper is to give food-for-thought for those working in mental health bureaucracies and to assist other groups or individuals that wish to establish a consumer-driven, community-based service.

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