Society is ready for mental health reform
Mental Health Victoria’s recent symposium provided opportunities to bring together different perspectives to unpack the many, many pages of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System’s final report, along with the other major strategies and commissions that point the way forward for mental health in our country.
Among the statistics and economics, each page is stained with tears. So many stories of traumatising, complex, lived experience of mental illness or suicidality. Lives lost, relationships broken. Stigma hovers in the air. Behind masks, people pretend they are OK. Yet they fight just to exist, let alone show up every day, too afraid to ask for help.
The Royal Commission volumes repeat the countless hardships of Victorians navigating an endless labyrinth of referrals to never-ending corridors or closed doors. Sometimes people who were meant to care and provide help instead did unthinkable harm.
Many others in the mental health sector, and in the community, have worked themselves to distress and unwellness to make a positive, loving difference to one person, to save a life, or a family. They have done what they could with what they had, and what they knew.
They, we, have been fighting an unwinnable war. The system isn’t a system, but a neglected, hobbled-together mosaic of broken bits.
I hold myself together.
Trembling, I try not to cry: for you, for my late mum, my adult child, cousins, grandparents, friends, work colleagues, myself. People I have loved and cared for, all touched directly or indirectly by mental health crises, vulnerabilities, suicidality.
I find myself hoping, after a lifetime of shame, fear and waiting, for something to happen. Hoping this time we will be heard, our screams for help will be validated. Hoping this time, change will be real. It has to be. We can’t bear disappointment again.
All these years of pain, trauma, advocacy and knocking down doors, annoying people, being unpopular nags, whingers, troublemakers — it has to be for something, even if not in our lifetime. We desperately need better for our loved ones, and everyone’s loved ones.
To be an audience member and panel participant at the symposium was an opportunity to share ways to move forward into the new promised landscape. We reflected through coming together, sharing painful and positive insights and experiences, being vulnerable, listening. We all want the same thing. This is why we are at this critical juncture.
My instinct tells me this a new playing field.
Having participated in and contributed to countless commissions, enquiries, reports and policy reform, cynicism runs in my blood. Yet now I am in a bubble of hope. The RC final report outcomes feel different.
But we, you and I, have to do the work of change. We have to channel our hopes and wishes into real, accountable leadership, actions and implementation.
It’s time for genuine collaboration, putting agendas, egos and politics aside. It’s time to end silos, competition, territorialism and empire building.
The teacher comes when the student is ready. Society is ready – beyond ready.
Please, let’s just get on with it and do!
Ingrid Ozols AM has over 20 years’ experience working in the suicide prevention sector, and is the founder of MH@Work, which provides a full spectrum of mental health services for workplaces and the community in Australia.
Ingrid is a Senior Fellow in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Melbourne, and Adjunct Lecturer in Psychiatry at Monash Health, Faculty of Medicine Nursing and Health Sciences. She is working for Suicide Prevention Australia on enhancing Australia’s non-clinical workforce capability, and is a lived experience advisor to Mental Health Victoria.