Mental health has been a key advocacy issue for OPA since 1988. Much of OPA’s early advocacy was for people with a mental illness in large state run institutions during the 1980s and 1990s.
The work of the Community Visitors Program is critical to OPA’s mental health advocacy. Community Visitors visit all mental health facilities that provide 24-hour nursing care including acute, secure units and community care units.
An important project undertaken in 2009 was the Long-stay patient project where OPA advocated for patients who were stuck in mental health units due to the lack of alternative accommodation and support in the community.
Areas of action
Victoria’s new mental health legislation
Victoria’s mental health laws provide a framework for the compulsory treatment of people with a mental illness in circumstances where there are grounds for involuntary detention and treatment. New mental health legislation (the Mental Health Act 2014) was introduced in Victoria in 2014. OPA influenced its development and continues to monitor its impact over time. This includes systemic advocacy through the policy and research and legal units and monitoring by Community Visitors.
OPA successfully advocated that the powers of Community Visitors be extended to allow them to visit Prevention and Recovery Centres (PARCS). PARCS are short-term recovery residential services for people either leaving acute care or who would benefit from 24 hour care. During the development of the new Act, PARCS were proposed to be outside the Community Visitors’ jurisdiction meaning that Community Visitors would not be able to monitor their quality of care. OPA advocated for the jurisdiction of Community Visitors to be extended to PARCS and this was adopted. OPA’s full position is documented in its position statement on extending the powers of Community Visitors to allow them to visit PARCS.
The right to refuse treatment is an important issue raised during the development of the Mental Health Act that has not been resolved to the satisfaction of OPA. The Act allows a person to be given mental health treatment that they refuse or are unable to consent to, if certain conditions are met. As documented in our position statement, OPA considers that no person with capacity to consent to mental health treatment should be subject to treatment that they do not want.
To support and facilitate the commencement of the new Act, OPA produced a report explaining the changes for guardians, Community Visitors and people advocating for consumers of mental health services. This report, Victoria's new Mental Health Act - a comparison with the Mental Health Act 1986 is a useful reference.
In its submission to the Victorian Government's next ten year mental health strategy, OPA congratulated the Victorian Government on its early commitment to the strategy, and called for the Victorian Government to maintain Victoria’s strong record of service delivery in mental health community support services and commit to system management. OPA also advocated for no loss of service to consumers in the transition to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
OPA takes an active interest in the human rights of people detained under the Mental Health Act. When detained involuntarily, people are required to be treated humanely and not to be subject to torture, cruel or degrading treatment. Two human rights issues important to OPA are restrictive interventions, and violence against women in mental health settings. OPA has produced position statements on these issues.
OPA takes the position that the use of mechanical and physical restraint to manage patients in mental health facilities occurs too frequently. OPA calls on the Victorian Government to adopt the goal of eliminating the use of seclusion and restraint.
OPA has serious concerns about the safety of women in mixed-sex adult acute psychiatric inpatient units. Women with a mental illness may be vulnerable in these settings and a lack of safety can lead to abuse, violence, harassment and unwanted sexual advances. As a minimum safety standard, there should be women-only corridors with door locking systems, and women should have access to their own bathroom facilities.