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Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System

Personal story:

Jill

Jill* was asked by her friend Lorraine* to be her nominated person under the Mental Health Act. Lorraine has lived experience of mental illness and was caring for her elderly mother, whom she lives with. Jill and Lorraine have been friends for a long time and have the same cultural background. Jill was surprised one day to get a phone call from a clinician telling her that Lorraine had been involuntarily admitted to hospital. As Lorraine’s nominated person, the clinician told Jill about the admission and an upcoming Mental Health Tribunal hearing.

It was difficult for Jill to get in touch with Lorraine while she was in hospital, but she was eventually able to speak to her. Lorraine told her that the police had come to her home and forcibly taken her to hospital. Jill was shocked that Lorraine could have her rights taken away from her so quickly.

I was so angry and disappointed to hear Lorraine had been forcibly removed from her home. Is this the way we treat vulnerable people? Anyone would be traumatised. It was wrong.

Jill was surprised to find out she only had one week to prepare for Lorraine’s upcoming Mental Health Tribunal hearing. The report from the treating team was received two days before the hearing (which is the mandated minimum timeframe), providing little time to review and obtain advice.

I was stunned that they felt that two days was sufficient time for us to review and interpret a report that would impact Lorraine’s life. Lorraine had been deemed incapable of looking after herself by the doctors, she had been forcibly taken to the hospital, was medicated against her wishes, and was distraught as she had no access to her mum. Yet was in a seemingly fit enough state to be able to interpret and respond to a report. How does that make sense?

Jill found the process confusing and difficult to navigate and said she wasn’t offered any advice, just provided with a pamphlet and expected to figure it out herself. Jill said she didn’t know who to listen to, receiving conflicting advice from the hospital and Lorraine’s lawyer. Jill was also disappointed to see that her friend had lost any hope of the system listening to her.

It was just like being in quicksand, trying to figure out how do I do the best for Lorraine. I walked a fine line, trying to help her get some control when her ability to have control had been taken away from her. Like, what do I do? How can we make this work for her because she was really defeated as well. Lorraine said, ‘I know what’s going to happen’.

Jill and Lorraine worked on a written response to the report, but Lorraine’s lawyer advised them not to submit it. At the tribunal hearing, Jill felt that Lorraine was not really heard. Lorraine was put on a compulsory treatment order for 52 weeks.

I definitely think that the process doesn’t listen to the patient. You don’t really have a voice. Let’s just be real here.

During the hearing, Jill did not get asked about her opinion or get to speak as the nominated person. Although Lorraine did get to speak, Jill feels that the process should have listened to her as the nominated person.

As a nominated person my experience was confronting, confusing and disappointing. We take these vulnerable people and expect them to be able to cope.

Jill says that a future mental health and wellbeing system will hopefully have a process for listening to the nominated person, and for the consumer’s voice and the carer or nominated person’s voice to be heard.

Source: RCVMHS, Interview with ‘Jill’ (pseudonym), October 2020.

Note: *Names have been changed to protect privacy.