Because Australia is a federation of states and territories, there is no overarching Mental Health Act, but rather eight, with many differences between them. What is true for all, is that everyone who is being treated within the public mental health system has the following rights:

  • On admission into the public mental health system, all patients must be provided with a statement or handbook that describes their rights
  • Treating staff must involve nominated carers in treatment planning and support
  • A patient can always request a second opinion.

It can be challenging to assert your rights. You may not feel well enough to represent or express yourself, and may need support or an advocate. You might have experienced stigma and discrimination in the past by people who are in positions of authority. Yet, you have the right to complain about an experience of service and  seek legal advice, or advocacy, to assist pursuing a legal matter or complaint.

We’re living in an era where greater ‘choice and control’ is being reflected by new mental health policy and revised mental health acts. Advance Statements are a potentially powerful tool that you can use to express choice and control about treatment preferences in the event that you are not well enough to communicate effectively or provide informed consent. You can also express your needs and wishes about other areas of your life, such as childcare and work. The Victorian Mental Health Act requires authorised psychiatrists to take Advance Statements into account when making treatment decisions. In states that don’t legally recognise Advance Statements, patients and nominated carers can still utilise these to influence treatment preferences. 

This video describes how to develop an advance statement.

Cassy Nunan
Wellways Consultant for Consumer Advocacy and Leadership