Engaging Mental Health Patients in Reform – What Happens When the Right People are in the Room

“As a consumer of mental health services for 40 years, I think we’ve got to look at peer support.”

Kate (not real name) had been living with mental health problems for four decades. She’d been subjected to countless waves of government restructures, new programs, and new initiatives.

She might not have held a degree or an senior bureaucrat title, but she was clearly an expert. Probably the best expert in the room.

“The move to in-home care is isolating people recovering from mental illness. Keeping us at home does not help. Isolation makes it harder to recover and to  transition back to a normal life. People need to be talking with others and getting out of their homes.”

A health worker smiled kindly. “But the in-home care is about tailoring support for people. It’s not about cost cutting. It’s about providing better help by tailoring care to people in their homes”

Kate’s voice was firmer this time. “But it isolates people. It’s not helping. It’s making things worse.”

Her insight changed everything. Despite a wall of more than 50 suggestions of existing mental health services in the region, there was one lone card saying “peer support”. It was Kate’s. And she was not going to let it languish.

This was her chance to be involved in making mental health services work better.

Community engagement – if the right people are in the right room – can be powerful. It can provide insights that challenge conventional wisdom or change the way decision-makers and policy makers can achieve better outcomes with ever-limited resources, particularly in the health sector where an ageing population puts increasing pressure on budgets.