Doing it right by people living with mental health issues
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RegNet Master of Regulation and Governance student Simon Katterl advocates for people in the mental health system, having experienced firsthand his own mental health issues and having worked within the human rights and oversight agencies within Victoria’s mental health and wellbeing system.
Here he shares with us his work advocating for those with lived experience of the mental health system and his hope to influence the new Mental Health and Wellbeing Act in Victoria.
“I could count on one hand the number of times that I have seen treatment that is consistent with our mental health and human rights laws.”
Share with us your career background and how you became involved in mental health and human rights issues.
I have my own personal and family experiences of mental health issues, with my own emerging after difficult life experiences growing up and when I was working overseas. I was fortunate to have a supportive family and be able to get the support that was helpful for me. However that’s not the case for everyone.
After completing studies in law, politics and psychology, I began working in the mental health sector as an advocate for people who were in the mental health system. It was at that point I realised how deep and widespread the human rights issues were. I have worked with over a thousand people in the mental health system. I could count on one hand, the number of times that I have seen treatment that is consistent with our mental health and human rights laws.
There is a real gap between our expectations and the lived reality of life within mental health units. I didn’t expect to see these things, and I don’t think that is well understood by the community.
Regulatory oversight, mental health and human rights aims to explore how to improve Victoria’s public mental health system. What motivated you to write this paper?
Having spoken to consumers (the preferred departmental term used for those who access public mental health services) while working across several human rights and regulatory agencies, I supported several of them to give evidence to the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System in 2020. I learnt from consumers that the law in the books was often not rights in reality.
In many ways, rights without enforcement and regulatory oversight, are myths. I wanted to draw upon experiences working with consumers and regulators, to unearth where oversight fails, and what we can do about it. That is important as Victoria and Australia more broadly, move to reform their flawed mental health systems.
Tell us more about the development of the 2022 Mental Health and Wellbeing Act and what changes are you hoping to see? What challenges do you foresee in the reform process?
Victoria is currently drafting a new Mental Health and Wellbeing Act to replace the Mental Health Act 2014 (Vic). Like many others, I hope that the new legislation will better align with human rights - both those internationally and our Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic).
Things like allowing consumers to express what treatments they do and don’t want through health directives is a small change that contributes to this alignment. Unfortunately, this isn’t currently on the table.
Another key concern is that the regulatory oversight system will not properly give effect to laws. The Royal Commission in Victoria found that our Mental Health Tribunal, our mental health regulators and systems managers had not successfully reduced the use of force in the mental health system, and that mental health services regularly breached human rights. The success of the new mental health legislation and system won’t necessarily just be more enunciation of rights; it will be creating a system that is structurally incapable of violating them. It means more rights, easier ways to enforce them (for consumers), and more challenging pathways to limit them (by services).
What can the ANU community or public do for their part in the consultation?
Anyone interested can [make a submission to Engage Victoria.
There is a section on governance and oversight - I’m sure many RegNet students, alumni and staff would make valuable contributions!
As a current student of RegNet’s Master of Regulation and Global Governance, how has this program supported you in pursuing interests in mental health and human rights issues?
It has been so valuable. In the brief time I have been here, I have heard from some of the leading scholars on restorative justice, responsive regulation, compliance, and enforcement— all crucial to mental health and human rights. My studies so far with RegNet have been intellectually challenging, but also validating in that the ethos of the School is one that cares deeply about the things I care about.
What are some of the highlights of your experience as a student at RegNet?
I remembered my first conversation with Professor Veronica Taylor when I wanted to enrol in the program. I put down the phone and knew immediately that this program is for me. During the course, Associate Professor Christian Downie was a thoughtful and responsive course coordinator, dealing with the challenges of a difficult COVID learning environment. And, I mean, I was a big fan when John Braithwaite gave a lecture to us. That was very cool.
I have been equally excited by the student cohort I began studying with; there were people working in building and construction, in environmental management, in climate activism and economic and social rights. And many were coming with rich lived experiences of the world and their place in it—that makes for a richer and more diverse approach to regulation and governance.
Read Simon’s paper on Regulatory oversight, mental health and human rights in the Alternative Law Journal here.
>>Learn more about the Master of Regulation and Governance program on our study page or contact the course convenor, Dr Aleksandar Deejay.