FORMER psychiatric patients are speaking to Bendigo Health staff about what it is like to be physically restrained and secluded.
Psychiatric Services executive director Philip Tune said the hospital was implementing an ongoing forum between former patients, staff in the professional development unit and staff responsible for reducing restrictive interventions.
The first forum took place today and three more will follow, he said.
He said the forum was being held in conjunction with Safewards - an international program aimed at making psychiatric wards more peaceful.
He said Bendigo Health was rolling out a pilot of the program and the forum was an additional tool to help the hospital achieve the program's goals.
"It's to get the first-hand experiences of people who, when they were inpatients in our unit, were either restricted or secluded, or both," he said.
"We want to hear how it impacted them, how it made them feel.
"A high proportion of our clients have suffered various traumas in the past ... the last thing we want is to re-traumatise people.
"It is pretty traumatic to be physically restrained and to be locked in a room in which you can't get out."
He said leaving patients who had been heavily sedated in locked rooms was not only traumatic but also posed a safety concern.
He said the hospital would like to abolish the practices altogether, but there were instances - such as when patients were aggressive to staff - when patients had to be physically restrained.
"It only happens if people are really, really disturbed and agitated and aggressive," he said.
But he said the number of instances these tactics were deployed could be reduced.
"It's about identifying flash points between staff and patients when things get out of hand," he said.
"It's about trying to create an environment where people feel supported."
Community Services Minister Mary Wooldridge said the objective of Safewards was to reduce conflict within mental health services, including identifying and reducing violence, self-harm or absconding.
"The government's new Mental Health Act 2014 came into force on July 1 and this investment will support health services to manage the changes that are required of them as a result of the new act," she said.
The program is being trialled in seven metropolitan and regional hospitals across Victoria.