A Royal Commission into Mental Health is underway in Victoria. This is a huge opportunity to reshape the way our state approaches the issue of mental health.

With three-quarters of mental health problems developing before the age of 25, it’s vital the Commissioners hear from young people. We encourage young people and the workers who support them to speak up! Be a part of YACVic's submission.

Anyone can make a submission, especially if you have a lived experience of mental health issues, either your own, or as a carer for other people. 

The Commissioners have promised they will offer different ways for people to get involved, including forums, roundtables, written submissions and online surveys. Check their session times and their approach.

Keen to make a submission? Here are five things to think about first. 

What’s my message?

 When it comes to mental health in Victoria, what’s the biggest problem you want to raise? And how would you solve it? No one expects you to fix everything, but maybe you’ve experienced a type of support that worked well, or heard a good idea that should be tried? The Commissioners have made it clear: they want solutions.

Now, take a look at the Terms of Reference for the Royal Commission. This is a list of topics the Commissioners will focus on. These main topics are:

  1. Preventing mental illness and suicide, and encouraging recovery.
  2. Making the mental health system effective and easy for people to navigate.
  3. Supporting families and carers of people with mental illness.
  4. Supporting people who are likely to have a harder time in the mental health system, such as Aboriginal Victorians, Victorians with disability, and rural and regional Victorians.
  5. Supporting people who are living with mental health problems and problem use of alcohol and other drugs.

Could you relate your message to one or more of these topics? If so, say that clearly at the start of your submission– e.g. ‘My submission relates to terms 1 and 4’.

Finally, think about whether you want to make a big statement about mental health, or just share a personal observation. Either is fine. If you want to work on a larger scale, you might need to do some research.  Check out the info provided by organisations like Mission Australia, Orygen, Beyond Blue, VicHealth/CSIRO, and headspace.

How do I want to communicate?

Do you want to speak at a forum or a roundtable? Would you prefer to write your ideas down? Or would you rather tell your ideas to someone else, and let them make the submission?  

The Commissioners have announced consultations in many locations. There will be forums for the public, meetings with people with mental illness and their families, and sessions about local issues.

The Commissioners have also promised other ways for people to share their ideas, including in writing, audio, video, and online.

You can make a formal submission or share brief comments to the Commissioners online. A formal submission can include a written document, audio or video file outlining your response to the Commission and the ideas or experiences you would like them to consider. Sharing brief comments with the Commissioners is an easy way to provide your thoughts on a few key questions, including:

  • what ideas you have about preventing mental illness and supporting people;
  • what makes it hard for people to experience good mental health; what can be done to improve services;
  • and anything else you would like to share with the Commission. 

Meanwhile, many youth support services will be running their own consultations with young people, and making their own recommendations to the Commissioners. You may find these activities are more ‘youth-friendly’, and some of these services would pay you for your involvement.

If you’d like to express your ideas via a youth service, we suggest you sign up for YACVic’s Announce bulletin, where we will promote opportunities. You might also want to contact your nearest headspace centre, your Local Learning and Employment Network, or your local council youth service, and ask if they’ll be providing opportunities for young people to have a say to the Commissioners.

If not, ask them which other services might support you to express your views.  For example, they might refer you to Carers Victoria, Orygen, Jesuit Social Services, Youthlaw, or the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare

And if you live in the Southern Mallee or Great South Coast regions, look out for YACVic consultation events coming soon! (These are the shires of Gannawarra, Buloke, Swan Hill, Southern Grampians, Corangamite, Moyne and Glenelg.) For more info, contact YACVic's Rural Manager at [email protected].

The Victorian Royal Commission into Mental Health is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create an effective mental healthcare system long-term.

–YACVic

How do I write this thing?

So you’ve decided to create your own written submission to the Royal Commission. How will you approach it?

The most important thing is to state your key message(s) clearly up front. Lots of writers list their recommendations at the start, either as dot-points or a summary paragraph. Imagine someone is looking at your work while sifting through thousands of other submissions. What’s the most important thing that you want them to know?

The Commissioners might set some rules about the format for your submission. But usually these processes are pretty open; people can write their submission as a letter, an email, or a report.

The length of your submission is up to you. Some people write submissions that are just one or two paragraphs long. Some write a couple of pages or more. What’s most important is that your message is clear. You might find it helps to read your work out loud to check that it ‘flows’, or show it to a trusted person who can tell you if it makes sense. And check the spelling and grammar! You want your submission to be easy for people to read.  

It’s important to be clear in how you represent yourself, too. You can remain private (see the next section), but you can’t lie! And explain whether you are writing as an individual, or on behalf of a group or organization.

Keep your message appropriate, too. If you write about topics that have nothing to do with mental health, you won’t be listened to. And ditto if you use offensive language, so keep it clean!

For some examples, check out the submissions to recent parliamentary inquiries into civics and electoral participation, career advice activities in Victorian schools, and youth justice centres.

Writing might a solo task, but you don’t have to do it alone. Do you have friends who would like to write their own submissions? Maybe you could do that together (with donuts!). Or you could contact one of the youth services listed above, and ask if they can connect you with other young people who are keen to have a say.  

How should I handle my privacy?

When you make a submission, the Commissioners should offer you various options about how much privacy you want to maintain. Keep an eye on their website and announcements.

 In the meantime, ask yourself:

 Do you want to use your full name? Would you rather use your first name only, or stay anonymous? If someone Googled your name and found this submission, how would you feel about that?

  • Do you want your submission posted on the Royal Commission’s website? This would allow more people to read what you’ve written and be influenced by you. But remember, once your submission goes online, it can be read by anyone, even years in the future.  
  • How much detail do you want to share about yourself? The more you disclose about where you live, work or study, which services you’ve used, or your personal circumstances, the more likely it is that someone might guess who you are. If you’re concerned about privacy, you might want to use more generalized language. For example, instead of saying ‘I live in Terang’, you might say ‘I live in rural Victoria’. Instead of saying ‘I went to Dandenong headspace’, you might say ‘I went to a service that provides youth mental health support in Melbourne’.
  • Are you respecting other people’s privacy, too? Be careful that you’re not sharing details that would identify a vulnerable person without their permission. If you’re not sure, contact one of the youth services mentioned in this article and get a second opinion.

Am I taking care of myself?

Taking part in this Royal Commission might bring back upsetting memories, or expose you to sad stories from other people. It’s also likely that the Royal Commission will get more people talking about mental health, and lead to greater media coverage of mental health issues.

It’s important to do things deliberately to make yourself feel better – mentally, physically and emotionally. Things which help you to relax and connect to the people and experiences that matter to you. We also encourage you to look after your sleep, nutrition and physical activity, and be aware that alcohol and other drugs might make you feel worse.

YACVic has co-designed a number of free resources and tips for self-care for young people and youth workers which you can download here. 

Check out tips on relaxation, wellbeing and self-care from Beyond Blue, headspace and ReachOut.com.

 If you’re feeling distressed, please reach out for help. Good places to start include Lifeline, eheadspace, Kids Helpline, or Beyond Blue. In an emergency, call 000.

Have your voice heard and be part of YACVic's submission