Independent support is vital for people forced to have mental health treatment

A service that assists Victorians who are receiving mental health treatment against their will is not reaching everyone who is eligible for it, according to an independent review from RMIT University.

Independent Mental Health Advocacy or IMHA is a non-legal service, within Victoria Legal Aid. IMHA supports people who are receiving involuntary mental health treatment to use their rights and influence decisions about their assessment, treatment and recovery. IMHA staff visit all designated mental health services in Victoria.

“Having involuntary mental health treatment can be distressing and isolating; you can be held in a locked ward and forced to receive medications, as well as other restrictions like limiting your communication with the world outside. It’s a daunting prospect to face by yourself”, said IMHA Manager Helen Makregiorgos.

“IMHA advocates regularly see people who do not know about their rights when really big decisions are being made about their treatment, such as what medication they will be given and in what doses. We support people to learn about their rights and have as much of a say as possible, so they don’t have to undergo unnecessary, or unwanted treatment” she said.

IMHA was set up by the Victorian Government in 2015 as Victoria’s new Mental Health Act was brought in. “With an increased focus on the rights of people with lived experience of the mental health system, IMHA is a safeguard in realising the reforms and vision of the Mental Health Act”, said Ms Makregiorgos.

The evaluation of IMHA’s first three years, from RMIT’s Social and Global Studies Centre found it has been very successful in an extremely challenging environment. “We heard from over 460 people including people who had used IMHA’s services and clinicians in mental health services”, said lead evaluator, Dr Chris Maylea.

“People told us ‘IMHA saved my life’ and the service was valued for being a source of hope and independent information. We identified that services often breached the Mental Health Act and that IMHA helps services to comply with the Act”, said Dr Maylea.

“IMHA is exceeding its key targets but it isn’t currently able to help everyone who needs it. The evaluation found that to reach all Victorians who need the service, anyone who is placed on a compulsory treatment order should be referred to IMHA”, he said.

“As the Royal Commission into Mental Health progresses, this evaluation shows the need for a focus on involuntary mental health treatment. We hope the Commission considers the need for mental health professionals to be trained to better understand the rights of people subject to compulsory treatment and the principles of using least restrictive treatment under the Mental Health Act”, said Ms Makregiorgos.

/Public Release.