Collaboration • Knowledge • Leadership

Collaboration • Knowledge • Leadership

Lived Experience drives MHV's first Aboriginal Director

Jan, 2022

Lee-Anne Carter doesn’t take her appointment to the Mental Health Victoria Board lightly. As Director — Statewide Community Justice Programs at Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS), she has seen firsthand the shortcomings of mental health responses in criminal justice settings.

Content warning: This article contains discussion of suicide.

But the motivations that saw her step up to become MHV’s first Aboriginal Director lie closer to home, too. Lived experience has driven her to spend her career working with people with complex needs and disability in marginalised communities.

“I had friends when I was younger who passed away from mental health and suicide,” she says. “In recent years I’ve also lost two siblings through suicide … my two closest siblings. I don't ever want people to have to go through the same experiences or the same trauma that I have.”

With a background in case management, Lee-Anne has a passion for direct contact with the community. She believes her wealth of hands-on experience, as well as her Aboriginal perspective, will complement the mix of voices driving MHV during the coming years.

“Having some representation from our mob and our community that gives added diversity to the makeup of the board is really important,” she says. “Aboriginal people, our experience is very different to that of other people. Our voices are needed at a governance level.”

She is excited also by the ways in which her role with MHV can enhance her own ability to engage meaningfully with the Royal Commission reform agenda. “To draw on the experience of the other board members will only enrich my understanding,” she says.

Lee-Anne has a strong interest in those reforms relating directly to Aboriginal communities, and is particularly concerned with those relevant to the intersection of Aboriginality with youth and LGBTIQ+ mental health. All, she says, require Aboriginal leadership if they are to be effective.

“With any reforms, often you get a mob speaking at community rather than working with them,” she says. “Self-determination is key. Making sure the reforms are community led is going to make them more effective, and allow people to feel safer accessing services.”

Her passion is people, but with this comes a keen eye for the broader systems and structures that impact those individuals’ daily lives. As such she wants to see change that is human rights based, culturally informed and, importantly, data-driven.

“A lot of services are under resourced because they don't have the proper data to show what the need is within the community.” Reform in this area, she says, will allow for better and more targeted resourcing that effectively meets the needs of each specific community.

“Being able to make any change, or being part of talking about what that change looks like, is what is really going to drive me,” she says of her Board appointment. “I’m going to take on this opportunity with both hands and I'm always up for a challenge.”

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