Authors: Chris Maylea
Event: 2018 TheMHS Conference
Subject: Non-legal advocacy in involuntary mental health
Type of resource: Conference Presentations and Papers
Abstract: Advocacy in compulsory mental health settings is a complex and contested affair, incorporating legal, non-legal, representational and best interests advocacy with a raft of other concepts in diverse contexts. For many who are subject to compulsory treatment, the experience is frightening, disempowering and can lead to lasting trauma, and advocacy can offer a supportive and empowering salve to distress. For decades, debate has raged between those who prioritise the ‘rights’ of consumers – often lawyers, and those who prioritise their ‘interests’ – often psychiatrists. Over time, this debate has evolved into a complex and nuanced dialogue, with mental health legislation taking away people’s right to make their own decisions, while seeking to protect their right to participate in those decisions. This occurs with both legal and non-legal advocates trying to balance rights to health, to personal and community safety, to self-determined recovery and to dignity. Independent Mental Health Advocacy (IMHA) is a non-legal representational mental health advocacy service run by Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) and funded by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). IMHA operates across Victoria, advocating with and for people who are subject to, or at risk of, compulsory treatment under the Victorian Mental Health Act 2014. IMHA was launched in August 2015 as part of reforms to the mental health sector. This presentation presents the findings of a two stage evaluation of IMHA conducted by RMIT University's Social and Global Studies Centre. The evaluation was co-produced with consumers by an evaluation team comprised of experts in mental health law and service delivery. We reviewed IMHA's documentation, local and international literature and legislation, and spoke to stakeholders including consumers who had used IMHA, IMHA staff, mental health professionals and other organisations who work with IMHA.