Home, Connection & Healing: Pathways to Mental Wellness Our submission to the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System

July 15, 2019 |

We believe the Royal Commission provides a critical avenue for justice, in ensuring that we assess how we can all contribute to creating a mental health system that works for everyone. 

We want a community that is fair, inclusive and thriving: where every person can learn, grow, heal, participate and be heard. In pursuing this vision we work alongside our 48 member centres who are at the forefront of helping people in their communities experiencing economic, social or cultural disadvantage and injustice.

Through our member centres, we see the overlapping life and legal issues that cause, and are caused by, issues that arise from poor mental health.

At least 20 per cent of the people who community legal centres assist and represent experience mental health issues, and we believe this is underreported, particularly when there is consideration of trauma. For our specialist legal service, the Mental Health Legal Centre, 100 per cent of the clients they work with have a mental health condition. 

At our specialist centre for young people, Youthlaw, 80 per cent of the people they assist experience mental health issues. 

The targeted programs and projects that our centres run see a large number of people with mental health issues, such as Justice Connect’s Women’s Homelessness Prevention Program, where 84 per cent of the women accessing the service reported having a mental illness.

In writing our submission to the Royal Commission, the Federation collaborated with our members to assess the scope of the issue, understand what is currently working and what can be done better to assist the people who seek our support every day.

People do not experience mental health problems in a vacuum, life continues, often around them. Problems can build up. When going to work becomes difficult or impossible, debts build up too. 

Pressure from shame, stigma and anxiety may create family breakdowns and with it, family law matters. Poverty and homelessness, experienced by many struggling with mental health issues, may lead to fines for living in public spaces.

Life and legal problems overlap, and if not addressed early, or at all, can snowball. This results in the development of mental health conditions, or the exacerbation of existing conditions.

Our centres also see the most vulnerable Victorians driven into the criminal legal system as a result of a lack of support and gaps in vital social services.

People who experience mental health conditions often need more than medical care. As a community, the best response we can have is to provide wrap-around support services, which put the mental health consumer at the centre of our approach.

Wrap-around services should include many elements of assistance tailored to the person’s needs, whether these are medical care, social care, housing, employment services, or legal assistance and representation.

Our mental health system provides positive programs and processes, but it is stretched in capacity and resourcing and those who are most vulnerable are falling through the gaps.

Our members often see people when they are in crisis, when they are sleeping rough, have an overwhelming fines situation, in the aftermath of a family violence incident and sometimes through partnership with other social services when they didn’t know they even had a legal issue.

This web of complex and interdependent issues which, if not addressed can contribute to or exacerbate mental health issues, fundamentally undermines the pursuit of a healthy community in which we can all thrive.

The systemic issues that contribute to and underlie mental health issues in overlapping life and legal circumstances were made overwhelmingly clear within our consultations. Assessing and providing a solution to a legal issue can help recovery and contribute to mental wellness.

Our submission is comprised of the following papers.

  • Executive summary - Including a full list of recommendations.
  • First, a home - The importance of housing for mental wellness: safe, stable and suitable homes; helping people to gain and keep their homes; making rooming houses safe and temporary; and preventing homelessness for people leaving care or prison.
  • Address connected life issues – The benefit of integrated services for mental wellness: Overlapping life, mental health and legal issues; reaching people who are at greatest risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes; supporting the mental health workforce; and a whole of government commitment. 
  • End criminalisation - Apply a health response for people experiencing mental health issues: Abolishing unfair laws; ensuring access to therapeutic justice; supporting young people; preventing people from entering prison, and providing treatment; and healthcare for people in prison.
  • Download the entire submission here.

We have covered a breadth of issues that impact our communities in our submissions, however we have not covered everything that is significant to the people community legal centres represent. In particular, we rely on the submissions of our specialist Mental Health Legal Centre in the significant area of compulsory treatment and restraint and the Mental Health Act.

Additionally, we strongly support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders people’s right to self-determination and culturally safe services, and endorse the submissions of our members, the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service and Djirra. Recommendations made in relation to Aboriginal people are to complement and emphasise their comprehensive submissions.

The Federation is fortunate to have had particular input from Women’s Legal Service Victoria and the Police Accountability Project (located within the Flemington & Kensington Community Legal Centre) and our specialist working groups: the Infringements Working Group, Prison’s Working Group, Summary Crimes Working Group, and Tenancy Working Group.

We support the members of the Federation that have made submissions to the Royal Commission on behalf of the clients and communities they work with and for, acknowledging that they speak best to their needs.

Strong community voices are the best means to understand and tackle the issues impacting our communities and to improve all of our health and wellbeing.

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