• Fiona Browning

Hopes and fears following Mental Health and Wellbeing Act consultation

In recent times, I’ve been involved in conversations about the new Mental Health and Wellbeing Act. As described by the Royal Commission, the new Act “will establish critical foundations for a redesigned mental health and wellbeing system”.


To give Victorians a say, the Victorian Department of Health asked us at Mental Health Victoria to facilitate some community consultations about some specific aspects of the new act. The following components were put forward for consideration:


  • Objectives and principles​ of the new Act​​

  • Governance and oversight (including complaints management)​

  • Information sharing

  • Compulsory assessment and treatment

  • Restrictive interventions (including chemical restraint)​​​

  • Non-legal advocacy

  • Supported decision making


The discourse was robust and the topics above were discussed, digested, dissed and dissected. A broad range of people participated: consumers, carers and significant others, service providers, allied health, and clinical and community workforce members.


Despite this diversity, it quickly became clear there were resounding themes, similar reflections and many more questions. These included:


  1. Language is key. The new Act needs concise definitions and to have clarity of intent.

  2. Culture change is imperative. A huge shift is needed sector wide.

  3. This opportunity to do things differently has to be authentic.

  4. Why the continuing separation of physical and mental health?

  5. Where is the focus on the rights to which we, in Victoria and Australia, are entitled?


I tell myself I should be feeling hopeful and reassured by the fact consultation has occurred, and that it is a step in the right direction. I wish I did.


However, post-consultation, I find myself ambivalent, discombobulated and outright concerned. These changes are complex and I’m shaking my head as to how little time was given for feedback to be provided. And to be frank, I wonder if any of what’s been shared will actually be listened to.


I have previously shared my belief that big steps are the little steps you keep on taking. After these consultations I’m now considering what kind of steps do we need to be taking.

Some bigger voices than mine have said:


“You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” — Martin Luther King


“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don't adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.” — Confucius


“It is necessary sometimes to take one step backward to take two steps forward.” — Vladmir Lenin


So, what now? What are these next steps? My personal reflection, and these views are my own, are still all about the steps. To those who are making the final decisions I say this:


Step up, be authentic.

Step outside your comfort zone.

Step into someone else’s shoes.

Step back from your own egos.

Step away from the past.


Because these are vital steps and when all is said and done, this system needs to be able to help people like me step beyond the devastating impacts of mental ill health and step back into life.


I wish we could take bigger steps and faster steps, but it is better to make the time needed to take wiser steps. It won’t be in vain, because from my lived experience, every step that leads me forward and helps me feel hope, well that is a good step indeed.


Fiona Browning is a member of Mental Health Victoria's Lived Experience Advisory Group.


Today in her consultancy work she combines the perspectives of over 30 years personal lived experience and 20 years working in clinical and community health roles.

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