People experiencing mental illness need more say

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A RESEARCHER from ANU is calling on the mental health sector to ensure people experiencing mental illness are involved in providing advice and leadership to mental health service providers.

Research fellow Dr Brett Scholz says the people who’re using mental health services have lived through the system and they know it better than anyone else.

“They know what it feels like and their experience profoundly matters,” he says.

“They should be involved in every level of the process, whether it’s evaluation, delivery, implementation, or planning these services from the get-go.”

Dr Scholz believes the stigma surrounding mental health issues often contributes to the lack of consultation by health service providers and his research looks at how people with mental illnesses are involved in developing and advising service providers what role they play in leadership teams.

“I’d love to see every board have more than one person directly affected by mental health issues,” he says.

“We found in our research that if there’s just one person and they’re in room with 10 psychiatrists, it can be disempowering

“Health service organisations now have what they call consumer representatives serving on committees. At the more tokenistic end, sometimes, these service providers bring on consumer representatives just to tick a box.”

Dr Scholz wants to take his research back to various health service organisations to demonstrate the benefits of more meaningful engagement.

He’s seeing positive signs here in the ACT, with peak bodies like the ACT Mental Health Consumer Network and the ACT Mental Health Community Coalition already committed to meaningful consumer leadership.

“The smaller size of Canberra compared to bigger cities means it might be easier for relationships to develop between these organisations and service providers,” he says.

While Dr Scholz’s body of work has focused on mental health, he’s already exploring how it could be beneficial in other areas like palliative care.


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