Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has promised to hold a royal commission into mental health if Labor wins the November state election. Last week’s announcement comes a couple of weeks after the federal government asked the Productivity Commission to inquire “into the role of mental health in the Australian economy and the best ways to support and improve national mental well-being”.

The recently established Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety is also likely to deal with mental health care in residential care settings.

Inquiries are not new in mental health. There were 32 separate statutory inquiries into the sector between 2006 and 2012 alone, typically gathering first-person experiences. Despite years of stories and recommendations, very few, if any, have been implemented.

Storytelling in mental health is often traumatic. Healing comes not just with recognition but also through genuine action. If there must be a new inquiry, perhaps what is really needed is a community review into the failed implementation of mental health reform.

Past inquiries

In 1983, New South Wales released a report from the Inquiry into Health Services for the Psychiatrically Ill and Developmentally Disabled (also known as the Richmond report), which consisted of 400 pages and 102 recommendations. One of these was the establishment of multidisciplinary community mental health teams. Yet, to this day, the vast majority of state-funded mental health services are still provided as either hospital inpatient, outpatient or emergency services.

In 1993, more than 450 witnesses shared mainly personal stories during the National Inquiry into the Human Rights of People with a Mental Illness. This was established in response to reports these rights were being ignored or violated. The 1,008-page report had more than 100 recommendations, which included that mental health care occur in the “least restrictive” setting.

Change in this area has been slow. Mental health patients endured seclusion close to 12,000 times and physical or mechanical restraint 13,000 times in 2016-17. And 22 people died in Victoria between 2011 and 2014 while in mental health inpatient units. Such incidents occur regularly across Australia, leading to yet more inquiries, such as the Inquiry into the Management of Health Care Delivery in NSW, which released its report in September 2018.

– Sebastian Rosenberg & Ian Hickie

Read More: If We’re to Have Another Inquiry into Mental Health, it Should Look at Why the Others Have Been Ignored

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