Collaboration • Knowledge • Leadership
Whatever led the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System to decide not to engage a consumer/survivor commissioner it, the decision was a missed opportunity.
[This piece is written from the perspective of consumer/survivor leadership. The challenges raised are in the spirit of belief in what consumer/survivor leadership has to offer Victoria’s mental health reform efforts.]
The decision resulted in consumer/survivors being positioned more as autobiographers than actors, more objects of others’ compassion than holders of experiential expertise that can define problems and solutions.
Human rights issues we encounter are more able to be disappeared when we are positioned as ill, and others extrapolate from our stories.
If a Commissioner with personal experience of using Victoria’s public mental health service system had been appointed and thus present at the decision-making table, it would have sent a strong message to the sector about the necessity and value of coproduction.
From the outset, the concerns of consumer/survivors would have stood on an equal basis with medical, legal and carer concerns.
A powerful message would have been sent for the very first time that consumer/survivor leadership is essential to all processes and outcomes of change.
Rather than relegated to storying “suffering” or “overcoming the odds”, consumers would have been an essential and unique source for analysing systems and driving innovation and knowledge about what does and doesn’t work, precisely because we have lived it.
The State would have signalled that it understands consumer/survivor leadership is ready, willing and able right now. We don’t have to wait for some future when our “capacity” is built – capacity and innovation are built by diving in and learning along the way.
This work still needs to be done, and is especially urgent as we move into implementing reform.
Redistributing power and resources
I hope we will see consumers/survivors in delegated positions working not just on areas of direct concern to the lived experience workforce, but also working on the development of, for example, the new wellbeing outcomes framework.
The proof of the coproduction pudding is what level of influence consumer/survivor leadership roles will have, and whether they can veto, engage in negotiation, identify and bring partners together and do more than advise.
Consumer/survivor leadership roles must operate within structures and processes that give them formal influence and at the same time resource them to work directly with their communities.
Calling something coproduction when there has not been redistribution of power and resources, and deep philosophical and financial commitment to consumer/survivor leadership in all sites of decision-making authority, risks being an exercise in gaslighting.