Satellite’s contribution to The Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System

Three members of Satellite Foundation’s community have been involved in the The Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System. Executive Director Rose Cuff, Ambassador Justin Heazlewood and program graduate Denna Healy provided witness statements to the Commission in 2019 and 2020 respectively.

What is the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System?

The purpose of the Royal Commission, which sits independently of government, is to provide a clear set of actions going forward; these actions aim to change Victoria’s mental health system to better meet the needs of people with mental illness, their families and their carers, and the professionals who provide support services. The Royal Commission also aims to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness and promote inclusivity. Once completed, the Royal Commission will make recommendations to government about what should change in the mental health system in Victoria.

Between 18 April and 5 July 2019 Victorians were invited to share their experiences, views and ideas on how to improve Victoria’s mental health system. The Commission received over 3,200 submissions from organisations and individuals, including people with lived experience, carers and families and the workforce. In addition, they held over 60 consultations across Victoria in April and May 2019 with more than 1,600 people.

The second round of submissions to the Royal Commission took place in 2020, although the public hearings were cancelled in response to Covid-19.

Witness statements from Satellite

Satellite’s CEO Rose Cuff presented her witness statement to the Royal Commission at public hearings in July 2019. Below are some excerpts from Rose’s submission.

(12) In my view, it is important to take a systemic, broad view concerning the potential impacts on families where a parent has a mental illness, to fully understand the implications. This enables us to better understand the possible risks to children in those families in the context of all their familial and community relationships, as well as their resourcefulness.(15) Research tells us that children are twice as likely to develop their own mental health issues when a parent has a significant mental illness themselves.

Satellite Ambassador Justin Heazlewood is an award-winning author and musician. He is also the son of a mother who experiences mental illness. His book Get Up Mum is about Justin’s life as a child carer for his mum. Justin presented a witness statement to the Royal Commission in 2019. Here are some excerpts from his submission:

(61) When I look back on my experience I am struck by the complete lack of support I received. At school there was not a single lesson spent on educating us about mental illness or self-care. At no point was the role of the school counsellor adequately explained to us. I was never prompted to tell anyone about any of my problems at home. Meanwhile Nan was delivering the message that I had to remain strong and carry on. There was definitely a stigma around mental illness and our family kept a tight lid on the silence around Mum’s story.

(62) It’s inconceivable to me that a doctor would have listened to me speak in detail about my situation with Mum and proceeded to do nothing about it. I’ve been told that if such an event happened today law would require her to inform my school and social services. This was a massive effort on my part to go directly to the authorities for assistance and my pleas were ignored. The message I received on that day was that there was nothing anyone could do for me. It would be a breach of Mum’s confidentiality. This was an appalling result which discouraged me from seeking help again for a decade.

As a community witness, Justin was also invited to have a one-on-one meeting with the Chair of the Royal Commission Penny Armytage to discuss his witness statement in more detail. You can watch the meeting between Justin and Penny here, which took place on 20 March 2020.

Denna Healy is a Satellite program graduate and volunteer and the third person within the organisation to contribute to the Royal Commission. Denna studied a Diploma of Counselling and has been part of the headspace Youth Advisory Committee in her area. Denna’s father has suffered from mental illness and she provided a statement as a community witness to the Commission. Read an excerpt from her statement below, and her full statement as a community witness here.

(53) When I consider what social changes will affect mental health, the first thing that comes to mind is consistent support and funding. Looking at the way mental health support and funding has been provided over the last few years in Victoria and Australia, I feel the way in which it fluctuates definitely impacts how vulnerable people receive, and in turn, respond to that system. If we are able to build, maintain and provide a consistent and strong support system for people, I think that will help maintain a healthier community as a whole.

Watch Denna’s one-on-one video interview with Penny Armytage here:

Find out more information by visiting the Royal Commission’s website (where you can also download their interim report.) The final report will be released to the public in the coming weeks.

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