Empowering people with mental illness

A BENDIGO woman spoke about her experiences in the psychiatric system at this week's launch of Victoria Legal Aid's expanded mental health services.

Diana, who's surname has been withheld to protect her privacy, said it was now nearly 20 years since her first admission into hospital as an involuntary patient.

She has had more than 25 admissions with the last of them being about two years ago.

"Foremost in my memory were the especially painful experiences which I find hard to justify as being necessary," Diana said.

The onus ultimately and inevitably returns to the individual alone ... - Diana

"I've had repeated admissions to psych wards as an involuntary patient.

"I've found it to be a frightening experience - it's an unnatural environment which causes unnatural responses during what is a formative period of time when you're sick and vulnerable."

Diana spoke about having personal freedoms taken away from her, including any decision making.

Legal aid services expanded

"On discharge from the psych ward the unsettling sensation was being dropped from the height of that intense intervention into all aspects of your life to a really minimal level of clinical support where staff might forget to provide prescriptions, follow up appointments and the sudden solitude after being under constant supervision," she said.

"The onus ultimately and inevitably returns to the individual alone to manage as best she can.

"There's a distinct contrast between being deemed as incapable of exercising autonomy and being thrust into the every day consumer world."

Diana said Victoria Legal Aid's expanded mental health services were a good thing.

"I think that when consumers are treated under principals of minimising trauma, respecting dignity and making and participating in the decisions that affect their lives, more of them will be able to reclaim their place in the wider community," she said.

Mental Health Minister Mary Wooldridge was at the launch and thanked Diana for her honest account.

Ms Wooldridge said a $1.3 million investment by the state government would expand VLA's legal services for people with mental illness.

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