Changes are needed to ensure more people with lived experience of mental health are involved in the care sector to provide a better balance between the needs of consumers, carers and mental health professionals.
That’s the recommendation made by a group of University of South Australia (uniSA) researchers in a recent report on the Australian mental health and suicide prevention system.
The report, which was commissioned by the National Mental Health Commission, sought to explore how the concepts of person-centred care, and consumer-directed care are being conceptualised and experienced in Australia’s mental health and suicide prevention systems.
The suggestion was one of eight recommendations included in the report with the group also calling for a national program for strengthening leadership and championing for organisational change in public mental health services, as well as the promotion and funding of crisis response models that emphasise dignity, personal safety and cultural safety.
The director of UniSA’s Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Research and Education Group Professor Nicholas Procter, described mental health and suicide-related crisis as “unique areas of human experience” and noted they require specifically designed care and comfort approaches.
Dr Procter said that carers, providers and other clinical staff with lived experience will improve the quality of decision-making and credibility of their perspectives.
“While current care models enable involuntary care for people in emergency situations, there are urgent reforms required to transform the care experience to ensure that care consistently empowers, maximises consent and autonomy, and maintains a positive, ‘compassion first’ connection between consumers, carers and providers.”
“The experience of care should not be traumatising, restrictive, disempowering, or burdensome. Practitioners need the professional guidance, organisational and work role structures, supports, time and resources to meet their expectations of high-quality recovery-orientated care,” he said.
Dr Procter said care can be particularly complex as staff are supporting clients who have very significant mental health conditions.
Systems need to provide care that responds to drivers of distress, the wishes of the person, care that builds clients’ capacity and enables psychological safety for them, families and kin, and staff, he said.
“Leaders with lived and living experience – people who have a personal perspective and experiences of significant mental health and suicide-related issues and distress – can help design and build care systems because they have the unique wisdom and insights to offer. They can help balance clinical and consumer perspectives.”
Co-researcher at UniSA, Dr Mark Loughhead, said that lived experience leadership will have many advantages.
“People who have a lived experience of mental health and recovery are often more in tune with the different interests and conflicts within organisations and communities and can advocate for improved services,” said Dr Loughhead.
“Lived experience is all about promoting personhood and humanity. It challenges long-held stigmas associated with mental health to ensure we ‘see the person, not the label or work title’ which is a much more inclusive model of consumer care, and a best-practice initiative to deliver mental health supports.”