The choice of Commissioners for the mental health Royal Commission is a missed opportunity

The Victorian Government has announced the names of the four Commissioners who will lead the Royal Commission into Mental Health. In a Facebook post, the Premier (or his social media team) wrote:

“We don't have the answers we need to fix our mental health system.
That's why we're holding Australia's first Royal Commission into Mental Health.
And that's why we've asked these four experts to be our commissioners.
A leader in health reform.
A researcher with more than 30 years' experience.
A former head of the National Mental Health Commission.
An international leader in mental health law.”

There is no doubt that the four Commissioners – Penny Armytage, Associate Professor Alex Cockram, Professor Allan Fels AO and Professor Bernadette McSherry – are suitably qualified for their roles. But the roll call of experts does not include someone with the lived experience of mental illness.

Just as there are experts with knowledge of the service system, health reform and law, so too there are experts with lived experience who have a deep understanding of mental health policy, systems and services. These include members of Mental Health Australia’s National Register of Mental Health Consumer & Carer Representatives; the National Mental Health Consumer and Carer Forum; and the Victorian Mental Illness Awareness Council, Victoria’s peak body for people with lived experience of mental health issues.

Undoubtedly there will be opportunities for those with the lived experience of mental illness to contribute to the Royal Commission deliberations, either through the submissions process, public hearings and giving evidence. The emphasis though is on contributing to the evidence base rather than having a role in formulating recommendations. Ultimately it is  about the exercise of power – who has it and who doesn’t have it - to influence the outcomes. The choice of Commissioners is sending a resolutely clear signal about who has the  power to make decisions.

There is an increasing recognition, both internationally and in Australia, of the critical role consumers can play in mental health policy and service system reform. It is fundamental to designing and implementing human-centred mental health services and essential to improving the lives of people with mental illness.

Imagine the powerful signal the Premier could have sent had he announced a Commissioner with the lived experience of mental illness alongside the other eminent Commissioners. It is a missed opportunity.

For the policy wonks: there was no mention of Patrick McGorry and the expert advisory committee announced as part of the Royal Commission election commitment in November 2018.