Social Solution for Mental Health Challenges

Greens Party MLC Amanda Cohn, chair of the Mental Health Inquiry, stated that “a lack of resources leads to doctors having no choice but to prescribe medical restraint. No health professional wants to have to do that”. Peer mentoring has the potential to drive through recovery-focused changes in service (Repper and Carter, 2011) and offers a gateway solution to the dehumanising use of forced medication. 

Mentorship services have been greatly beneficial in criminal justice spaces, with increased calls for peer mentors following successes in International jurisdictions (see JA’s summary of the Sepping Report). 

The Mental Health Commission of NSW commented on the importance and necessity of ‘peer navigators’. In their submission to the Inquiry to Parliament, they commended the role peer navigators have played in mitigating distress and encouraging help-seeking when individuals transition from mental health hospitals to everyday life. Furthermore, the ‘Living Well in Focus 2020-2024’ strategy, proposed by the Commissioner, which arose after the NSW Mental Health Commission, supports the need for an ‘increase [in] the mental health workforce to support people in, and released from, custody’. 

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrist (RANZCP), the peak psychiatrist organisation, gave evidence to the Inquiry on 16th October 2023. They supported the use of peer workers as a key response to people with psychosocial challenges. RANZCP stated that peer mentor programs created by Headspace and Safeguard provide lived experience advice as they have ‘been there’ before, with increased work provided by these organisations during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Forced medication as a solution fails to meet psychosocial needs and violates bodily autonomy and basic human rights. Mentees felt like they were both understood and accepted by the lived experience mentors–a unique strength of this peer support model (Repper and Carter, 2011). This program reports positive results of reduced admission rates and longer community tenure for mentees. The expertise of people with lived experience is often overlooked, a ‘missing link’. 

Peer mentoring allows mentors to use their shared lived experience to connect, inspire hope and support individuals through their recovery journey. This also provides extra employment opportunities for former prisoners to earn a living after their release. Peer mentoring is a worthwhile alternative to the damaging practices of forced medication by uplifting and encouraging both of the participants’ personal growth.