Prof. Penelope Weller1
1RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia
Independent mental health advocacy is a unique form of advocacy first developed in the United Kingdom. Two unique services have now been established in Australia- the Mental Health Advocacy Service in Western Australia and the Independent Mental Health Advocacy service (IMHA) operated by Victoria Legal Aid in Victoria. Despite the success of these two services they remain underutilised. Such services are almost universally welcomed by consumers. Staff and clinicians on the other hand appear to have a poor level of understanding about the purpose and rationale of advocacy services and a limited appreciation of the important contribution they can make to mental health settings. That potential is lost if IMHA staff are greeted with suspicion or hostility. The Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health Systems has recommended that the new Mental Health and Wellbeing Act includes provisions for an ‘opt-out’ independent advocacy service. This paper argues that the weight of empirical evidence both in mental health settings and in the criminal justice contexts supports the proposal for widespread utilisation of advocacy services in the mental health system. Rather than being a barrier to treatment and recovery, independent advocacy improves consumer experience. It can enhance trust, support therapeutic relationships and increase the likelihood that a mutually acceptable course of action will the found. This paper presents the mounting empirical evidence attesting to the value of advocacy practice and discusses issues that may arise when such a service is implemented and expanded.
Professor Penelope Weller is a Professor of Law in the Graduate School of Business and Law at RMIT University in Melbourne. She has published over 50 articles and chapters concerned with human rights and mental health law. Penelope is a member of the Mental Health Tribunal in Victoria.