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Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System

Personal story:

Lucy Barker

Lucy* has experienced the mental health system for around 11 years, including more than 80 inpatient admissions. She has found accessing the system very difficult.

as one psychiatrist put it, I had too many complex issues for them to deal with. It took so much persistence to access any service and by the time I finally found a service, things had gotten much more severe.

Lucy has been subject to compulsory treatment several times. Lucy believes, in some instances, it has saved her life. However, she said it has also put her in traumatic and stressful situations.

Compulsory treatment is more of a practical lifesaving mechanism as opposed [to] a wonderful great experience which has saved my life and improved my mental health in the long term.

I don’t feel comfortable with men. However, sometimes when I have been in compulsory treatment in medical wards, I have [been] given one‑on‑one care with a male nurse … It means every time I need to go to the bathroom, he’s in the bathroom with me. It’s a terrifying experience.

Lucy would also like to see more cultural sensitivity in mental health services.

as part of treatment in the eating disorder unit, they try to re‑establish your eating patterns. Culturally, my main meal of the day is lunch, not dinner. Dinner to me is a foreign concept … The problem with the clinic is that there is no flexibility and I’m being taught to eat in a way that I can’t maintain when I go home. I am being set up to fail.

Lucy believes that there would not be a need for compulsory treatment if the system was not so crisis‑based.

At the moment you can’t get a service unless you are in crisis or your mental health has deteriorated to the point that you need someone to intervene … I had to be actively suicidal to get help.

It was the same for my eating disorder—it had to get to the point where my organs were failing before I could be admitted as an involuntary patient. If I had been offered help a month earlier, I would not have deteriorated to a point where I needed compulsory treatment.

Source: Witness Statement of ‘Lucy Barker’ (pseudonym), 29 June 2020.

Note: *Name has been changed in accordance with an order made by the Commission.