April 2009

Newsletter No. 18


This issue of the MHYF Vic Newsletter has several important items for you.
The first is that our Annual General Meeting will be held on Wednesday 26th August.
The second is that MHYF Vic plans to be involved in two forthcoming conferences in Australia and perhaps also in the next IACAPAP Conference in Beijing in 2010.
The third is about MHYF Vic views on consumer and carer involvement in mental health services in Victoria.
Finally, membership renewals will be due before the AGM, and it hardly needs pointing out that we need a strong membership base for our advocacy to have maximum impact.

The MHYF Vic Annual General Meeting will be held on Wednesday 26th August 2009 at a location to be notified in our next Newsletter. The previous location was well-regarded by members who attended but our numbers are too great to be accommodated there again. We are exploring possibilities for having the same format in a new venue. The meeting will have a brief business component in which the present office-bearers will tell you about what has happened over the last year, and new office-bearers will be elected. This will be followed by dinner and then the after-dinner speaker.
The after dinner speaker this year will be Rick Pawsey, director of the ‘Take Two’ Program that deals with young people in residential care who have had ongoing serious behavioural and emotional disturbances not adequately assisted by previous programs.
A descriptive note on the proposed presentation will be included in our next newsletter.
This is not a boring old AGM but a stimulating evening’s discourse on topics of real importance to mental health. Fine food and fellowship make this an occasion not to be missed. Bring your companions and friends, whether or not they are members of MHYF Vic. However, it is important for us to accurately inform the restaurant of how many people are coming, so please RSVP to Jenny Luntz on 9387 4662 or

MHYF Vic members will be presenting papers at the forthcoming conference of the Australian Infant, Child, Adolescent and Family Mental Health Association in Adelaide on 26-28th October 2009, which is paired with the inaugural World Congress of services for Children of Parents with a Mental Illness (COPMI).
A paper will also be presented at the conference of the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) being held in Melbourne from 2-4th September 2009.
The possibility is being explored for our participation in the next IACAPAP Congress in Beijing from 3-6th June 2010.

Consumer Participation By Suzanne Robson
The December issue of Australasian Psychiatry published an article by Graeme Browne and Martin Hemsley: Consumer participation in mental health in Australia: what progress is been made? Although the authors are discussing adult mental health services, their analysis of consumer/carer participation can also be applied to CAMHS.
According to the authors, the answer to the question posed in the title would be: “not very much.” As Browne and Hemsley write: “Barriers like a lack of respect, tokenism, lack of financial incentives and poor communication are still ‘getting in the way’ of services taking advantage of the valuable contribution consumers can make.”
My personal experience is of been a carer of my daughter who began treatment at the Austin Hospital CAMHS in 1989. Since that time she has accessed a variety of child, adolescent and adult mental health services. I became involved with MHYFVic eleven years ago and despite what appeared to be an optimistic beginning, consumer/carer participation in CAMHS has made slow and uneven progress.
The impetus of consumer/carer participation was the recognition in the Burdekin Report 1993 that: “the experience of societal stigma and disempowerment by the mental health service caused, in many cases, far more suffering than the mental illnesses themselves”. (Browne and Hemsley, 2008). Since then there has been a number of reports and inquiries such as
the Senate Select Committee on Mental Health (2005) and Not for Service – Experiences of Injustice and Despair in Mental Health Care in Australia (2005).
One of the most important issues that is common among all these inquiries is the need for attitudinal change among mental health workers. The hard reality is that for many of the users of mental health services those who work in the service are usually a big part of the problem.
As Browne and Hemsley write: “the mental health professionals working within these systems have persistently attracted criticism for been slow to adjust their attitudes and modus operandi to wholeheartedly implement their policies.”
There seems to be lack of understanding on the part of those who work in mental health services of how negative, stigmatizing and damaging treatment by a mental health service can be. Nor does there seem to be a grasp of how appalling it is that people who are already vulnerable and at a difficult time of their lives are frequently harassed and verbally abused by those who claim to be working to help them.
Part of the attitudinal change is also a need to develop what often appears to be a lack of empathy towards parents of children and adolescents experiencing a mental health problem. Parents experience ongoing pain, despair, hopelessness and grief when dealing with these problems in their children.
Just as important however is that many of those involved in consumer/carer participation have missed what it is all about. As Ruth Vine wrote in the forward to Consumer Participation (2007): “Fundamentally, this document reinforces the critical and unique expertise of consumers – the lived experience. It recognises that this ‘lived experience’ is needed to inform and shape practice across policy and service delivery, planning, development and evaluation.”
The “lived experience” is to put it in a nutshell, consumers and carers discussing their personal experiences. Furthermore, it is listening to this “lived experience” that is most likely to change the attitudes of those who work in the services.
Finally, in order to keep consumers/carers involved there has to be obvious improvements in services that are directly related to our participation. Like many consumers/carers I had a negative experience of using mental health services.
I became involved with MHYF Vic because I wanted to change what happened in CAMHS to me and my children and to prevent it from happening to others. I was also doing what is common among those who have been through a negative life experience – I wanted in some way to use my experience in a positive way.
It is hardly surprising then that the majority of consumers and carers therefore want change to happen in the short-to-medium term. We want to change what happens during either our own treatment or the next time we have to access services for our children.
Although some mental health services have made a commitment to consumer/carer participation and creating responsive services, this is the exception rather than the rule. All mental health services and those that work within them need to demonstrate a real commitment to providing a high quality and responsive service to those who use them.

Don’t forget to renew your membership. The annual fee is only $20, and every member counts when it comes to advocacy influence.

Newsletter Editor
This issue of the Newsletter was prepared by Allan Mawdsley. If any member is willing to join the Committee to take on the task of Editor, please contact me on


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