This symposium explored the role of mental health legislation in the recovery agenda. With discussions incorporating examples from three different Australian jurisdictions, the presenters discussed the issues and challenges of incorporating recovery principles into mental health legislation in an environment of competing imperatives. This blog will provide a summary of some of the main themes to come from the questions posed.
How can mental health legislation juggle the needs of consumers, families and carers, professionals as well as the general community?
The only way to get that through is to get those people in the room and talk about it. People have different opinions, and often very justified reasons for their positions from past experiences that aren’t always going to be resolved through new legislation. However that’s why it’s so important to have a process that people have confidence in; that their views and experiences are being listened to and that no on is being left out of discussions. In everyday contexts this may mean building ways to enable those difficult conversations, and negotiating the power relations to create a space for this to occur. At the same time, legislation needs to be seen as one tool in the toolset and cannot be seen as the answer to every situation, as nothing this complicated ever can be.
How do we incorporate recovery into mental health legislation and can we ever do it sufficiently?
You can try to mold recovery into all aspects of mental health legislation but there are points that clash together and ultimately decisions need to be made around it, which is why process is so important. Coercion, seclusion and involuntary treatment limit how recovery can be implemented in this framework, and we must ensure the people effected by these measures are not separated because the legislation cannot reach them.
To what degree can mental health legislation to drive cultural reform or even be expected to drive cultural reform?
Legislation frames the culture that people are already working in. Therefore you have to accept that changes are going to challenge the culture. You can’t rely on it entirely, but it can send a very strong message. We have the risk that if we expect legislation to do too much, then we’re going to be disappointed and ultimately create problems for ourselves. However, it can compel compliance in some key areas that have been clearly identified, and cultural change may come as a result of this. It must be remembered that you cannot legislate compassion and respect, and that we have to tread carefully around giving power to the people who don’t have this. To the extent that the legislation enables talking and listening, then it has the potential to shape culture.