Why we need a national association for mental health consumers

The Australian Association of Mental Health Consumers > The Association > Why we need a national association for mental health consumers

Why we need a national association for mental health consumers

Let’s raise our strong, united, consumer voices from across Australia.

We don’t need government funding to help us influence a better mental health system.

Rosa Parks did not have government funding. Martin Luther King did not have government funding. Neither did Ghandi or Nelson Mandela. They reached out to their fellow human beings who were living unacceptable lives of exclusion, violence and prejudice, and they stood together to bring about change.

It’s time for us, mental health consumers of Australia, to do the same.


The mental health consumer movement is one of the last great human rights movements.

Our movement has existed for many decades, all over the world, but it’s only in recent years that we’ve begun to have some real influence. Organisations and governments now ask us for our opinions, but our influence is small and often tokenistic.


Why don’t we have influence?

  • Because we are fragmented, split across a multitude of small groups and associations that lack collective influence.
  • Because we are often asked for our views after plans or decisions have already been made.
  • Because our perspectives are too often ignored, or changed into something different, or considered less relevant than what ‘the professionals’ have to say.
  • Because mental health systems fail to recognise the diversity of our perspectives, and find it ‘too hard’ to engage with us deeply.
  • Because stigma and discrimination are still alive and well, and many people still fear us rather than understand us.
  • Because, sometimes, what we ask for is threatening to others.
  • Because many people are still frightened of us.

We consumers have many issues for the mental health system, for governments and for society, that must be addressed. And if we are to bring about real change then we must stand strong together.

Almost every other group that experiences disadvantage is represented by a national organisation.

Except for us.

And so all these other organisations have a say in policy that affects us … except for us. Unions, service providers, carers, peak bodies and professional associations all have much more say than we do.


Why we need to stand up for ourselves & each other

The big issues for consumers of mental health services are consistent across Australia. The time has come to push hard for deep and real change.

As consumers, as citizens of this country, we should not have to accept that:

  • We are subject to international human rights violations in every state and territory of Australia. The United Nations has criticised Australia for its legislated deprivations of human rights under the International Declaration on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, such as:
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    • involuntary treatment like medication and ElectroConvulsive Therapy (ECT)
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    • involuntary incarceration without criminal charge
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    • lack of freedom in our personal beliefs, speech and movement
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    • restrictive and harmful practice like seclusion and restraint
  • We often receive less than best-practice or best-standard mental health and physical health treatment and support services
  • We are often deprived of choice in the supports and treatments we want and need, and have our decisions made ‘for us’
  • We continue to be subjected to violence and abuse within many mental health services
  • We die, on average, about 20 years less than the average Australian citizen. This is completely unacceptable.
  • We experience frequent discrimination in health and disability services, in employment, in the welfare system, in housing, and in our representation in the media.

Why should we create this association? Can’t someone else do it?

No-one else can do it but you and me.

Consumers have tried, for years, to get government support and funding for our national association – this has failed.

And, on consideration, maybe that’s a good thing. Government funding would compromise what we can say and do. If we create our own organisation, funded and run by members, then we retain the freedom to create our own purpose, and to say the uncomfortable things that we want and need to say. Besides, we can do it ourselves. Of course we can.

What’s more, as consumer, Ian Watts, said in the final communique from the now closed government funded project to create a national consumer organisation:

We need to create an army of ‘peaceful warriors’ who are capable of moving quickly to capitalise on an opportunity to launch our organisation. Many of us know the story of Rosa Parks who acted spontaneously by refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus. Fewer of us know that she was part of a larger organisation that was setting the scene for change. We can’t let this setback destroy the army. It must keep building, and looking for the chance to act.
— Watts, CRG,National Mental Health Consumer Organisation Establishment Project, 2015)


Read more…

Where we’ve been: Past consumer work to establish a national consumer organisation. Let’s learn from what’s already been done.

How we get there: A plan for making the association real and How we’ll make decisions together

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