Victorian Collaborative Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing Bill 2021
The Greens are very happy to see the Victorian Collaborative Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing Bill 2021 making its way through the Parliament. These last few years have been a hard slog for the many people struggling with mental illness. Before the pandemic complicated things our mental health system was chronically underfunded. Struggling to keep up, services could often only treat the most dire cases, but that meant people whose mental health was not great but was not terrible often could not get the support that they needed. For some of those people that meant that their mental health slowly deteriorated until they too were in a dire circumstance. Services were struggling to keep up across the state and especially in rural Victoria.
Then COVID came along and turned our world upside down. The measures that have been needed to protect us from COVID and stop even larger numbers of deaths have been also measures that have put a strain on our mental health and our mental health services. Calls to helplines have skyrocketed while more and more young people have been showing up to emergency departments after self-harming. The pandemic has affected us all, but especially young people, many of whom find themselves facing job losses, unable to pay the rent and struggling to see a future for themselves. Our society has gone through a scale of disruption not experienced in the decades before, and for years to come we will come to understand more fully the impacts of what we have experienced but also learn the things that can help protect and prevent the experiences of mental illness.
It has been a hard few years for people struggling with mental illness, but slowly things are starting to change. The royal commission acknowledged just how important mental health is and made concrete recommendations on how to fix our mental health system. The government, to their credit, took those recommendations on and put real money behind them in the state budget. The Greens have welcomed this, and now those royal commission recommendations are starting to become a reality.
The Victorian Collaborative Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing was the first recommendation of the royal commission’s interim report. It will provide mental health services, do research and provide training, bringing together both people with lived experience of mental illness and people who research it. The royal commission talked a lot about lived experience. That is because our mental health system is littered with stories of people who just were not listened to on how their medication was affecting them, what experiences they had been through and, for many, the trauma they had experienced, which was sometimes being exacerbated by the system that was trying to help them.
In an attempt to get much better at listening to people, the royal commission argued that people with lived experience should be central to our mental health services, both in designing them and working with them. This comes through in today’s bill, with one of the two directors of the collaborative centre having lived experience of mental illness as well as two of the board members, plus two having experience as carers.
What does not come through in this bill, however, is a clear commitment to human rights. This issue was raised by the Victorian Mental Illness Awareness Council, who are the peak body for people using the mental health system. While the bill talks about the inherent dignity of people living with mental illness or psychological distress, it does not talk about their human rights. The Greens feel that this is a very valid concern. We understand that the centre must be compatible with the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities and that the new mental health act, when it comes to the Parliament next year, will talk more about human rights. However, we also believe that adding human rights to the centre’s guiding principles would shape how the centre sees itself and what it does in a way that a charter statement read out in Parliament cannot. We would also like to see promoting the dignity and human rights of people living with mental illness added to the list of functions of the centre. Despite those concerns, the Greens believe that this is a good bill, and we look forward to the Collaborative Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing becoming a reality.
This Parliament has talked a lot about mental health in the last few years. It is my sincere hope that with the passage of this bill, budget funding and more bills to come all this talk is translated into real change. For the dads trying to get an appointment for their kids who may be self-harming, for the women who felt their anxiety levels bubbling higher and higher through the pandemic, for the people experiencing psychosis trying to hold onto somewhere to live and for the people who are mostly okay but not quite as okay as they were before, I hope that all of us can get help when we need it.