Understanding Consumer Participation in Mental Health: Issues of Power and Change
International journal of mental health nursing 2011 Jun; 20(3): 155-64
Consumer participation occurs in all Victorian public mental health services. Area mental health services employ consumer consultants to enhance consumer participation across the network. Ongoing support of management is essential to the success of consumer participation. This project aimed to explore understandings of consumer participation from a manager's perspective. Semistructured interviews were conducted with seven participants in this qualitative, interpretive study. The thematic analysis revealed the complexities around defining consumer participation and demonstrated the difficulties and possible reasons as to why there is no real clarity between managers, service providers, and consumers as to what consumer participation should look like. Power and change were the primary themes. Power and the overwhelming consensus that the medical model and those working within it hold the most power was strongly represented in this study. Legislation and workplace settings were seen as considerable factors adding to the disempowerment of consumers within an already disempowering mental health system. Change was the other main theme that emerged, with culture and attitudes of the old 'institutionalized' thinking that still pervades some pockets of mental health services being seen as the major barriers to change. The role of the consumer consultant was a prominent subtheme, with their role in training and the education of workers seen as an essential and positive way to progress consumer participation. These findings demonstrate that managers consider there to be hope for consumers, brought about by collective action and lobbying, and through consumer participation in less-restrictive parts of the service (community settings).