Most mental health problems develop before the age of 25, so it is important for young people to take care of their mental health and find support from family, friends and professionals. Organisations such as Youth Beyond Blue, Headspace, YSAS and the Kids Helpline (1800551800) offer support and referral.
However, if you find you have concerns about your experience with a public mental health service, you can contact Victoria’s Mental Health Complaints Commissioner (MHCC).
We spoke to the MHCC’s Commissioner, Dr Lynne Coulson-Barr, Senior Adviser - Lived Experience and Education, Emma Bohmer, and Advisory Council Member Tom Wood to find out how complaints can improve our mental health system for you and other people too.
What is the Mental Health Complaints Commissioner (MHCC)?
Lynne: We are an independent, specialist body established under Victoria’s Mental Health Act 2014 to safeguard rights, resolve complaints about Victorian public mental health services, and recommend improvements. The aim of the Act is to protect the rights and dignity of people accessing public mental health services and to place them at the centre of their treatment and care.
The MHCC’s vision is a public mental health system that welcomes and learns from complaints, makes quality and safety improvements to protect the rights of consumers, families and carers, and upholds the principles of the Act in all aspects of service delivery. We want people to know that everyone’s experience matters and that speaking up about your concerns improves our mental health system for you and for other people.
What do people make complaints about?
Lynne: People raise concerns with us and with services about a variety of issues, but they often relate to people not feeling as though their voice has been heard. Complaints about treatment mostly related to disagreement with treatment orders and inadequate treatment options or planning. Other common concerns are around inadequate or misleading communication by services, or perceived rudeness or lack of respect or empathy. There are also a small number of complaints about threats, bullying, harassment, assault, discrimination or sexual safety violations by mental health service staff or other consumers.
Tom: If you make a complaint, a Resolutions Officer will communicate closely with you, other person/s and service/s involved in the complaint, and work through things to resolve the issues. Outcomes often include the service giving answers or explanations about the issues raised in the complaint, acknowledging the person’s experience, apologising, and/or taking action to prevent something similar happening in future. If you make a complaint on behalf of someone else, the MHCC will generally need to seek their consent to proceed.
Emma: We try to work with people in a flexible way that meets their diverse individual needs. We know that it often requires a lot of effort for a person to speak up, and it’s in our guiding principles to be accessible, supportive, responsive and timely are amongst. We have information on making complaints in Easy English, Auslan and in 15 different languages. Even if the person’s complaint is out of the MHCC’s scope, we have a ‘no wrong door’ policy which means we will always do our best to put them in touch with someone who can help.
Lynne: MHCC staff regularly work with services to ensure they uphold the principles of the Mental Health Act and other relevant standards and legislation. Where we or a service identify that things could have gone better, we help them to make service improvements. These include things like changing policies and procedures, giving training and feedback to staff, and changing practices – such as providing someone with a different worker better able to meet their needs.
How do you involve young people and lived experience?
Emma: The MHCC has an Advisory Council made up of diverse people with lived experience as consumers, family members and carers or who work in mental health services. Two positions are reserved for people under 25. The MHCC also aims to reach young people through our education, engagement and communication activities, such as social media.
Tom: I have been on the MHCC’s Advisory Council as a youth member with lived experience for over two years. I have contributed to the Lived Experience Framework, which guides how lived experience can be incorporated into every aspect of the work and a language guide to ensure communication is inclusive, non-stigmatising and consistent. I also participated in a lived experience workshop which brainstormed how MHCC staff and the Advisory Council could be more effective in our roles.
Lynne: Young people are a priority group for us. YACVic’s submission to the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System focused on the experience of young people in rural and regional areas. We receive complaints from these areas, and in our first eighteen months we visited every single service around Victoria and also spoke to carer groups as much as we could.
We also supported an art project in several youth Prevention and Recovery Care units called ‘Different faces of mental health’, to engage with young people receiving mental health treatment and support them to speak up about their experiences.
Last year we too made a submission to the Royal Commission based on learnings from over 16,000 enquiries and complaints made to us or services since we started, which can be found on our website. In it we raised concerns about the needs of young carers, approaches taken in youth justice centres and access to and safety in specialist child and adolescent/youth mental health services, among other things.
Issues such as the alarming suicide rates of young people from Aboriginal and LGBTIQA+ communities are of great concern to us. We will continue to try and support young people to speak up about their experiences and improve services for themselves and others.
The MHCC is an independent, specialist body established under Victoria’s Mental Health Act 2014 to safeguard rights, resolve complaints about Victorian public mental health services, and recommend improvements: https://www.mhcc.vic.gov.au/
Please note: Due to COVID-19 the MHCC is operating a limited service and cannot receive visitors or answer calls immediately. Please leave a message with your contact details on their telephone (1800 246 054) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and they will respond to you as soon as possible.