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Consumer and Carer Participation in Mental Health Services by Bianca Rossetti

15 June 2021

Bianca Rossetti is the Chair of the ACT Mental Health Consumer Network and member of the Canberra Hospital Expansion Project Consumer Reference Group. Bianca spoke at the Thank You event for Consumer Representatives at the ACT Legislative Assembly on 9 June 2021. Her speech is below:



Today I am going talk about consumer participation in mental health. I would like to acknowledge the Tradition Owners of the land upon which we meet today and pay my respects to their Elders past and present.

According to Australian Institute of Mental Health and Wellbeing, mental health affects and is affected by multiple socioeconomic factors, including a person’s access to services, living conditions and employment status, and it affects not only the individual but also families and carers. This data is not new and people in the community are increasingly becoming aware of mental health affects but how is the ACT mental health systems changing and improving to meet needs. I identify as a consumer of the public mental health system and also as a carer of a teen with disability and would like to share my personal experience of being a consumer representative in our health system. I would like to acknowledge people with living experience of mental illness and their lived experience expertise and ongoing contributions to the mental health sector. Thank you Minister Stephen-Smith and Minister Davidson for your recognition of consumers.

Consumer and carer participation has been promoted as part of the National Mental Health Strategy and has the potential to empower consumers and carers to improve mental health services, research from University of Queensland has found. So how is Canberra’s mental health system encouraging this participation.

The ACT Mental Health Consumer Network, through their educational programs, have given me the courage and skills to advocate in the mental health system. Several years ago, I began my journey in mental health systemic advocacy by attending the self-advocacy course, after completing that I did the consumer representation training, and recently ‘My Rights My Decision’, understanding NDIS and mentoring courses. These courses are empowering for consumers and help us understanding our health and wellbeing and voice systemic issues in committees within the mental health system.

Currently I am the Chair of the ACT Mental Health Consumer Network and an active consumer representative on several committees from reviewing policies, the Safewards program to Canberra Hospital Expansion Project.

I am also on the board of the Mental Health Community Coalition and feel that a commitment to advocating comes for knowing the sector and taking opportunities.  As I am involved in MIEACT as a YAM [Youth Aware of Mental Health] program instructor, NDIS participation focus groups, and other lived experience forums. Due to this it is important to prioritise responsibilities and do self-care. As a consumer and carer it is important to understand limitations, have the right to say NO and still feel appreciated and valued for contributions.

It is vital to listen and acknowledge consumer and carers participation and involvement in all areas and stages of the health system. Currently the majority of consumers have their say after accessing clinical services. This is great but I believe more can be done in the areas of health promotion and listening to consumers and carers health concerns in development and planning. Mental health services including NGOs need to have a unified evaluation form for consumers. The Office of Mental Health and Wellbeing are interested in a project of working in collaboration with NGOs and consumers to ask the right questions to improve mental health services.

The National Mental Health Commission has consumer and carer engagement principles. Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria have consumer and carer participation frameworks.  Canberra Health Services needs to develop and implement a framework for consumer and carer participation to increase and improve engagement.

The National Safety and Quality Health Services Standards have a Partnering with Consumers Standard and its intention is to have consumer input in the planning, design, delivery, measurement and evaluation of care. Within the Canberra Hospital Expansion Project I have felt that this Standard is being met. Also my involvement in the co-design of the Safe Haven Cafe has been positive. All people involved were respected, valued and appreciated for their contributions regardless of positions or job titles. I appreciated receiving a recognition of contribution certificate from the Safe Haven Café team.

Partnering with consumers for their care requires understanding and skills that not all consumers possess. This is the area that needs reform as population health, health literacy and knowing rights is often taken for granted in our health care system. For consumers it is often difficult to voice their needs and rights within the health system, but it can be as simple as finding the right person to share concerns and issues with. Peer workers should be recognised as a valuable part of the mental health system. Peers workers can help consumers navigate the system and have explain the rights as a consumer and carer within the health system.

Along with the ACT Mental Health Consumer Network working in collaboration with other services and supports needs to be highlighted. I would like to acknowledge the continuous works that Health Care Consumers’ Association does with the Canberra Hospital Expansion Project and their methods of including diverse participants in workshops and committees.

Recognising the role of the consumer allows for diverse perspectives. It is all about empathising with a patient and thinking about their overall health and wellbeing journey. As mentioned before mental health affects and is affected by several factors, our health care systems needs to listen to the person and acknowledge their needs to improve their health and wellbeing.

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