FCVic was pleased to attend the Victorian Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) & Mental Health Services Providers’ Conference held in Melbourne on Monday, 18 July 2022. Sandy Ross, Melanie Keenan and Julie Watson, representing FCVic, spoke with other attendees about financial counselling. They distributed leaflets and information about financial counselling, the National Debt Helpline and related topics.
The Conference included keynote presentations as well as breakout sessions with a range of topics. The commitment of the state government to respond to the 65 recommendations of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System with a 10-year plan and new vision was emphasised by all the keynote speakers. It seemed to provide renewed motivation and impetus to improve the experience and outcomes of those being supported with mental health and/or alcohol and drug addiction.
Sheree Lowe, Executive Director of the Social and Emotional Wellbeing Centre of Excellence at Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO), spoke about learning and working together from a First Nations point of view. Sheree shared with us a statement from her father’s pre-sentencing judge from 20 years ago: “the remedy, if there is one, lies elsewhere.” (Judge Bongiorno). This introduced the reality of working at the tertiary end of the system when the issues had their origin much earlier. Sheree shared briefly what that experience has been for the First Peoples and spoke to the intergenerational trauma that is still being experienced. She concluded by encouraging us all to work together with humility, empathy and a shared vision, while sharing conversations and listening deeply.
There was also lengthy discussion around the role of lived and living experience in the mental health and AOD sectors. Peer workers have been in the sector for many years, but it was obvious that their role and contribution was now better understood. The Royal Commission had also elevated the benefits of lived experience being part of the workforce. There has been a Lived Experience Unit set up in the Department of Health, and an internationally renowned Director appointed to lead it. Mary O’Hagan, the first appointed Executive Director of Lived Experience, spoke about having lived experience and moving from participation of consumers to partnership with them. There was also mention of joining up the broader service system, including Neighbourhood Houses and places where financial counsellors are found. So, it was opportune that FCVic had a presence at the Conference.