Report on Australian Human Rights Commission and Being Discussion 17/10/23

The Justice Action team attended the “Mental Health is a Universal Right” discussion on 17/10/23. 

This event was an innovative fish bowl style discussion co-hosted by the Australian Human Rights Commission and Being. The theme of the discussion was why “Mental Health is a Universal Right”. The fishbowl style of discussion allowed a non-hierarchical event to take place with all members of the audience allowed to share their views. The event hosted around 50 in person attendees with others joining in on a live stream. 

This resulted in varied viewpoints being discussed including those of individuals with lived experiences themselves, peer workers, activists, doctors, and members of government including the chair of the NSW MH inquiry. The discussion was started off by the President of the Human Rights Commission Ros Croucher. Throughout the discussion some individuals claimed that the use of chemical restraints in Australia is a result of a lack of resources in hospitals and prisons, especially regional ones as highlighted by Greens Party MLC Amanda Cohn. 

MLC Emily Suvaal voiced her support for reform in mental health services as well. As an MLC in a regional area she agreed with Cohn that the lack of resources is a major problem. It is important to note that Suvaal herself has lived experiences with mental health. 

Dr. David Murphy highlighted the importance of alternative treatments that can be used to treat patients in place of chemical restraints. Murphy also spoke on legal provisions in the Mental Health Act including sections 41, 68, and 195 which make the use of chemical restraints illegal and stated that providers who use chemical restraints are actively violating the Mental Health Act. 

Other speakers from the day included peer workers from the organisation Flourish who gave remarks on their lived experiences in the industry. For instance, Flourish peer worker Mark Muro spoke of the use of coercion and forced medication he has seen in his years assisting the psychosocially challenged. His experience shows him that treatment using less medication or alternative methods is often more beneficial to consumers. Further, he promoted the need for a Human Rights Act in NSW. The audience also heard from Andrew Padayachy, a Peer Worker at the Forensic Hospital and ex Prisoner who provided great insights into CTO’s and need for peer workers in the sector.

Another individual from the discussion who echoed some of these sentiments was Salita Lee, a psychiatrist involved in Youth Justice in NSW where 95% of her patients are aboriginal. Based on her expertise she stated that while medication is often beneficial when prescribed correctly it also can have negative effects on patients health if not properly used.

By the end of the discussion agreement was reached on various issues surrounding mental health services. First and foremost, that chemical restraint and the indefinite use of it have a negative effect on the psychosocially challenged and should be discouraged. A common consensus was that a lack of resources lead to medical professionals and care workers being overburdened, in turn causing a greater probability for chemical restraints to be used. In order to minimise the use of chemical restraint more funding needs to be allocated to mental health services along with increased social support for patients. 

To view Being’s comments on the occasion, head on over to their LinkedIn page here.