IMHA is vital for consumers in the compulsory treatment system – evaluation
An independent evaluation of our services has called for an automatic system of referral to Independent Mental Health Advocacy (IMHA), for anyone who is placed on a compulsory treatment order in Victoria.
RMIT’s Social and Global Studies Centre, in co-production with consumers, heard from 467 people including 69 consumers who had used IMHA’s services and 292 mental health professionals. The evaluation found that whilst we have been very successful in helping consumers to use their rights in a challenging environment, we are not reaching everyone who is eligible for our services.
‘People told us "IMHA saved my life"; the service provides an invaluable source of hope to people who are having forced mental health treatment. But in order to help everyone facing compulsory mental health treatment in Victoria, IMHA needs more resourcing to be able to respond to increased demand’, said lead evaluator Dr Chris Maylea.
The evaluation found IMHA was highly valued by consumers because we helped them to understand their rights and because advocates treated them with dignity and respect. Irrespective of whether our advocates achieved the outcome the consumer wanted, consumers appreciated an advocate being present.
Professionals who had worked with IMHA generally held it in high regard, but it was noted that across the sector, but particularly in community mental health services, awareness of IMHA and understanding of our advocacy model is low.
Where IMHA was involved, we were effective in assisting mental health services to comply with the Mental Health Act. ‘While IMHA was set up to safeguard the emphasis on consumer rights under the new Mental Health Act, during our evaluation we identified consistent breaches of the Act by services. We have recommended that all players in the sector work together more collaboratively to address these systemic issues going forward. The 2019 review of the Mental Health Act and the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System provides an ideal opportunity for this’, said Chris.
‘We are looking forward to continuing our work educating clinicians and other mental health professionals about using supported decision making and helping services to realise the vision of the Mental Health Act', said IMHA Manager Helen Makregiorgos.
The evaluation made four main recommendations:
- referral to IMHA should be automatic for any person subject to compulsory treatment through an ‘opt-out’ system
- IMHA should to be adequately resourced to meet demand
- IMHA must continue to improve sector awareness and understanding of advocacy
- oversight and funding bodies must coordinate and adequately invest to ensure that services comply with legislation, are recovery-oriented and least-restrictive, and that consumers are supported to make decisions.
Better data needed
The evaluation noted that there is a lack of accurate data available about how many Victorians are subject to compulsory treatment to assist with service planning and delivery.
‘We don’t know how many people are having involuntary mental health treatment every day because the figures aren’t made public. Better data about who is receiving mental health treatment would lead to better allocation of resources’, said Chris.
Helen said the release of the evaluation is timely as the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System progresses. ‘This evaluation shows the need for a focus on compulsory mental health treatment. We hope the Royal Commission considers the need for mental health professionals to be trained to better understand consumers’ rights and the principles of using least restrictive treatment under the Mental Health Act’, she said.
Reviewed 23 July 2021