Published on Monday 28, June 2021
IMCL's Community Legal Mental Health Partnership project sees IMCL lawyers integrate with mental health professionals and police emergency responders to facilitate a more compassionate and health-focussed response to people experiencing a mental health crisis.
In its second year, Molly Williams, IMCL Managing Lawyer, explains the project's current focus: 'Following on from consultations with the PACER team in the project's first year, we are now ensuring that the voices and views of mental health consumers are embedded in our work and how our services are designed to be delivered.'
'This work has a few components, the most important and exciting of which is the establishment of a consumer advisory group.'
This year, with the assistance of a Lived Experience Advisor, Simon Katterl, IMCL began the process of establishing a consumer advisory group (CAG) to better understand how people with lived experience of mental health issues can access better and earlier legal help.
Simon told us why it is so important to centre the voices of mental health consumers as a community legal centre and within the broader community: 'As communities, services and policy-makers, we have an ethical obligation to assist consumers to participate and enable them to lead decisions that affect their lives. But you also create better policy and services when you engage with people at the early stages in service design.'
Applying these consumer insights to the early design stages of the Community Legal Mental Health Partnership project, in particular, is crucial according to Molly.
'The establishment of the CAG is central to the project because it will enable us to ensure that the model of legal help we are providing through the project is safe, well-targeted and meets the needs of its ultimate end users,' Molly told us.
In setting out to establish the CAG, Molly and Simon went through established mental health service connections and consumer networks to locate six consumers with a broad set of expertise and a range of experiences.
The members, who will have their first monthly meeting in July, have a lived experience of engaging with mental health services as well as an experience of legal need. Ensuring that the group reflects the broader demographics of our local community was also a priority for the project team.
'With only six places, it is hard to represent the whole community. but we made sure to prioritise the voices of CALD people, people over 60 and with experience of using aged mental health services, those who have engaged with youth services; and we have made sure there is an even gender distribution,' Simon explained.
'Reflecting the intimate link between legal problems and mental health issues, our CAG members have experienced legal problems like family violence, housing and fines issues. We also have consumers who have been involved with the child protection system or have engaged with Police before they were 18.'
We look forward to implementing their recommendations and working towards a best practice model of legal intervention within the mental health context. In the wake of Victoria's mental health royal commission, we are also advocating for the systemic integration of legal help into the new mental health system.
'We will be able to learn from them the barriers to accessing legal help in the mental health system and, realistically, the group will identify a whole set of problems and solutions that we couldn't have necessarily pre-identified.'
For Molly, it is an exciting next: 'We can't wait to hear their insights on navigating legal issues and accessing legal help.'