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Mental Health and Wellbeing Bill 2022

Aug 18, 2022 | News, Parliament

Members interjecting.

Mr BARTON: I know. I managed through those 60 years to accrue a bit of life experience. About 45 per cent of all Australian adults will be affected by a mental illness at some time in their life—almost one in two—and I am not immune from that. There have been times in my life when I had to reach out and ask for help. I have seen many family members and friends have to do the same. Mental ill health can affect anyone. You can never know truly what is going on in a person’s life. If you need to reach out, you do not need to feel ashamed.

From a policy perspective, there are many changes to be made that can support the mental health and wellbeing of Victorians. The Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System made 65 recommendations, and I am pleased to see some of these critical recommendations included within this bill today. And the timing is right: we need these changes now. Victorians have had it tough. COVID-19 has had an enormous impact on people’s mental health. That harm continues today. We know that with restrictions it was a tricky balance between what was required to keep the community safe, people’s mental health and the economy. We are recovering, but more always needs to be done.

The $1.3 billion investment made in the most recent budget to support our mental health and wellbeing system is a great start, and so is this bill. I look forward to seeing the rest of the royal commission’s recommendations being implemented as part of the 10-year plan to rebuild our mental health system from the ground up.

This bill will replace the current Mental Health Act 2014, creating a new foundation for mental health support in Victoria. This bill acts as an enabling piece, establishing the principles of our new mental health as well as the powers and functions of entities and others in the system.

Critical to this are the rights-based mental health principles. These are modern principles that will guide service providers, ensuring the dignity and autonomy of people living with mental illnesses are upheld. So it is important that people are involved in decisions about the treatment, care and support they receive while also recognising the role of their families, carers and supporters in their treatment journey. Victorians will have rights under this new system for their preferences and their needs to be heard, understood and acted on.

The bill also introduces a non-legal mental health advocacy service for people who may be subject to or at risk of compulsory treatment. This will be an opt-out service and will support consumers in understanding and exercising their rights with regard to their treatment. Of course this is an incredibly complex aspect of our mental health system, and this advocacy service, which was recommended by the royal commission, will increase the uptake of safeguards such as advance statements of preference and nominating support persons. These safeguards are there to protect some of our most vulnerable Victorians.

There are several new entities and offices established in this bill that will govern and provide oversight for the mental health and wellbeing system. These include the Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission, which will provide oversight of the system to manage complaints—this is an independent body that reports directly to Parliament; the regional mental health and wellbeing boards, which are eight boards engaging with local communities and providing advice to the minister regarding mental health services in their regions; and the chief officer for mental health and wellbeing, who will report directly to the health secretary and will spotlight mental health within the department.

What we have learned in the last couple of years is that these young Victorians need more support when it comes to their mental health. More than one in four people aged between 16 and 24 are affected by mental illness at some time—I know about this—and 75 per cent of severe mental health problems emerge before the age of 25. That is why early intervention is critical to an effective mental health system and can prevent lifelong mental health illnesses. This bill acknowledges and seeks to address this fact by introducing Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing Victoria. This entity will give young people agency to share their mental health experiences and through this process assist their peers. This platform will champion the voice of young people, with the membership of its board including young people with lived experience. Mental health services will not work unless they are tailored to suit the individual. Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing Victoria will be that voice for young people, ensuring their mental health system caters for their diverse and complex needs.


Mental Health and Wellbeing Bill 2022

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This new mental health and wellbeing system will be focused on ensuring there is a health-led response to mental health crises in the community. Unfortunately we have seen emergency services responses to people experiencing mental health crises led by the police rather than a health service. This will change. The bill will enable a number of functions that provide more options for how the system can respond to people in crisis. Provisions will better protect the rights of people who require emergency support as well as improve the efficiency of emergency services. This will go a long way to reducing trauma for those who need treatment and support.

When creating legislation it is of course important to listen to those in the industry. In this case the mental health nurses have identified a number of concerns that I will outline for consideration. Firstly, the bill states that it intends to ultimately eliminate the use of seclusion and restrictive intervention. They have raised some concerns that the pressure to not use restrictive interventions, for fear of repercussions, could potentially increase risks to mental health staff.

It has also been expressed to me that there may be a need for a chief mental health and wellbeing nurse that reports to the chief psychiatrist. This is to prevent mental health nursing being diluted under a general nursing structure. Lastly, mental health nurses want to see an accreditation process defined by the chief psychiatrist to ensure mental health workers have the skills and the competency to safely enact powers under the act. It is always important to consider the views of those who this legislation will impact. Our mental health workers play a really important role in our community and must be heard. I understand that Ms Patten will be moving some amendments to address some of these matters, and I will certainly be supporting those amendments.

This bill is the beginning, not the end, of the reform of our mental health system. It lays the foundation for a system that enables people to be involved in decisions around their care and treatment. It enables their ability to express their wants and their needs and puts lived experience at the centre of decision-making. I expect to see more conversations around what the future of Victoria’s mental health and wellbeing services looks like.

On that note, I would like to bring attention specifically to the issue of men’s mental health. We know that often men find it difficult to reach out and ask for help. Because of this men’s mental health issues have gone undiagnosed, often for a very long time. Social norms, upbringing and role models have contributed to this issue. ‘Toughen up, Princess’ is a phrase that comes to mind from my generation. This culture of dismissal stops us from addressing what are truly serious issues. Every week a woman dies at the hands of a partner that once loved her—or does love her—and it is such a serious issue. I urge all men: if you are angry and you do not know why, if you are hurting the ones you love, you have to reach out. You are not tough by not doing it; you are a better man when you do it. Many fall through the cracks before being able to be access the support they need. In fact 75 per cent of those who take their own lives in Australia are male. The number of men who die by suicide in Australia every year is nearly double the national road toll. This is devastating and impacts families, friends and whole communities. This is an area that I hope to see prioritised in the new mental health and wellbeing system, as I look to our bureaucrats there to keep us going that way.

The system, yes, is there to provide treatment and support, but it also must focus on early intervention and engagement with those at risk of experiencing mental health issues. Not everyone knows how to ask for help. It is something I struggled with. I am very happy to see this bill go through this place today, and I commend this bill to the house.

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