May 19, 2023

Mental health lived experience crucial for carers to provide effective care and advocacy

lived mental health experience
Mental illness may be more common among older Australians, particularly older carers, people in hospital, people living in residential aged care and people with dementia. [Source: Shutterstock]

Experts at the University of South Australia (UniSA) who published a new spotlight report on the Australian mental health and suicide prevention system said that lived experience can facilitate a better balance between the needs of consumers, carers and mental health professionals.

The report follows $586.9 million of funding in the latest Federal Budget being allocated to overhaul Australia’s mental health system.

With this data and financial backing in mind, UniSA academics hope the report will prompt the creation of a National Mental Health Commission.

Australia’s representative to the International Association for Suicide Prevention and Director of UniSA’s Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Research and Education Group, Professor Nicholas Procter, said that carers, providers and other clinical staff with lived experience will improve the quality of decision-making and credibility of their perspectives.

He said care can be particularly complex as staff are supporting clients who have very significant mental health conditions. 

Systems need to provide care that responds to drivers of distress, the wishes of the person, care that builds clients’ capacity and enables psychological safety for them, families and kin and staff.

“Leaders with lived and living experience – people who have a personal perspective and experiences of significant mental health and suicide-related issues and distress – are able to help design and build care systems because they have the unique wisdom and insights to offer. They can help balance clinical and consumer perspectives.”

The spotlight report leans into the importance of person-centred and consumer-directed care models that Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission have recommended in its final report. The report advocates for a co-designed system where care models work together to deliver consistently for aged care clients and their loved ones.

The models work from the person’s own story and wishes, include their whole life needs and involve family or carers in decision-making. Consumer-driven care gives clients greater decision-making capabilities over the care they receive, allowing them to tailor care to meet their needs.

Co-researcher at UniSA, Dr Mark Loughhead, said that lived experience leadership will help services bring these care concepts to life.

“[People who have a lived experience of mental health and recovery] are often more in tune with the different interests and conflicts within organisations and communities and can advocate for improved services,” said Dr Loughhead.

“Lived experience is all about promoting personhood and humanity. It challenges long-held stigmas associated with mental health to ensure we ‘see the person, not the label or work title’ which is a much more inclusive model of consumer care, and a best-practice initiative to deliver mental health supports.”

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