I went to the Sunshine Coast 2nd round consultation in regards to the QLD Mental Health Advisory Committee the other day. What a ride that became...
I sat down at the back, because with a two hour session, I knew I would have to get up and stretch, or I wouldn't be able to walk back to the car with my joints lol... They started off - three people from the government, a guy, a typing lady, and a carer representative. Then the room started to fill, and I watched them all - they knew each other, and they had "work clothes" on... I was the only consumer in the room. Great.
As the Government guy started talking, I tried really hard to just listen and tweet. And I did tweet, and I did listen. And a couple of times, my mouth got the better of me, and I mumbled some things under my breath. From the giggles of the guy next to me, my sentiments were obviously shared though.
Government guy (you guys know I have a BAD memory yeah?) - he started showing some slides. He got through the preliminary ones before getting on to the recommendation ones, and I'd like to be able to say that we actually saw the recommendation ones, and that we talked about the recommendations, but we didn't. We got stuck on the preliminary ones. Because the last preliminary one talked about the Mental Health Advisory Committee being "independent". And the room full of QLD Health employees and NGO's and NFP's ... well, they just started bitching. And didn't stop. About funding. And control. And who would have funding and control.
A couple of times, I spoke up - sometimes to back up the government, and sometimes not. One time to dispel the myth that drugs and alcohol gets a better rap (stigma) than mental health (so so so not true). And then I got the shits. Then I wanted to have my say, and I put my hand up, and I spoke.
The thing, and this is important to know - I wasn't nervous. I was calm. I knew what I wanted to say, almost word for word. I had a plan. My heart was steady, and my hands were calm. I was confident. I was in control. And I spoke.
For about four or five sentences. And here was my mistake - I looked at the people. I looked at this group of people fighting for the rights of mental health consumers and here is what I saw... two or three looks of respect. Two or three looks of pity. And the rest could only be described as looks of contempt. "Who the fuck is this girl, who thinks she knows anything?" is what I saw in the rest of those faces.
And then I just couldn't get the words out. I faltered, and I stopped talking. I didn't finish what I so desperately needed to say. Although, while they continued to hash out the money and power crap, I figured that not one of them would have listened anyway. They didn't care about consumers. One woman spoke of "participants" during the whole two hours, and when I thanked her for it afterwards, I used the term "consumer" and was lightly reprimanded. Well, sweetheart - first of all - who gives a fuck, and second of all - I will self-identify any damn way that pleases me. And I say that the way that I say it because when she spoke of "participants", it was this:
"We are the ones who have to face participants and explain to them that there are no services available."
I know... good right? Great, especially considering the context of the day... But then she fucks it up...
"And we are the ones who have to deal with that. We are the ones who have to ..."
Umm...??? Excuse the fuck out of me, but aren't consumers, oh, I mean, participants, the ones who have to deal with that??? This is a public forum, not a staff meeting.
When the meeting finished, I looked around and thought "what's the point?" I just couldn't imagine how the hell consumers have any chance when people are just worried about their jobs and their funding and their "turf". If it had been a meeting FOR staff alone, then yeah, I get it. But it wasn't - it was a public forum. There's a time and place, and this wasn't it. Not for the whole two hours anyway.
I went to my car, trying hard not to cry, and I drove away, soon bawling my eyes out. I'm just me... I don't know what to do next, or how to fix this problem. I get why they feel the way they do, and I know there's an answer, but I'm not about to get sworn in as Premier, so what the fuck can I do? Apart from cry like a girl, which I did quite well.
Until I was about ten minutes away. And then I thought - NO! FUCK NO! I am not going down that easy. So I turned the car around and I went back. I was hoping to catch the government troop, and I did, just as they were leaving. And they were lovely lovely people. Of course, maybe they were just yanking my chain, but if so, they were really good at it :)
And they let me talk. We talked about why consumers don't turn up, and I told them that consumers don't know about it. They told me that they have given NGO's and NFP's all the information to pass on, and I said that not everyone is using these services, and even if they are, it doesn't mean that the organisations are passing the information on. And even if they are, that generally speaking, consumers don't trust them - at least, not like that. That lady I spoke of - she told me that no "participants" wanted to come even though she had told them, and I straight away thought, well, if you told them like that, no fucking wonder. Did you offer to help them get here, or tell them they didn't have to say anything, or find out why? Did you give them the tools and space to be comfortable with the idea? Or did you just ask?
And we talked about my finding out how to get more consumers to participate. Because at the moment from the sounds of it, less than 5% of the voice for this Committee are consumers. And that has got to change. I simply don't believe for a second that people don't want to have a say. I believe that there are obstacles, and I want to find out what they are, and how to get around them, but I don't believe that people don't want to have their say. Mental illness affects every single fucking aspect of your life, so this shit is important. And people with a mental illness aren't stupid. They're treated as though they're stupid, but they're not.
This meeting made it clear to me that this is all fucked up. The government is effectively asking NGO's and NFP's and state employees what consumers need. And they are telling the government what consumers need. What we need is a system where consumers tell the government what they need, and then the government asks the NGO's and NFP's how the fuck they're going to provide it. And quite honestly, I think that the government guys I talked to would actually be willing to do this if they knew how. So I'm going to try and help them with that.
For the record:
* The government guys told me that this was the most "focused on one topic" group they had seen. They said they were surprised and saddened that not more consumers turned up. I told them that I was glad no other consumers turned up, because listening to that shit was truly horrifying.
* Not all NGO's and NFP's are like this. And quite honestly, I don't think all these guys would be like this all the time either. I think it was one or two who lead the pack, and the rest followed.
* One person stated that as an employee of an NGO, they couldn't speak freely. The same was said of the government. And I'm wondering - What the fuck? Why not? What's the point of this, if it's not transparent? Why are we giving tax payer money to NGO's if they are not transparent? There's a whole lot of wrong there...
* The government guys treated me with respect. And I respect them for it, and I thank them for it. I left there, the second time, on a total high, because they listened to me. I don't know if they agreed with me, and I really don't care - they listened, and quite frankly, sometimes that is enough. On a personal level. ;-) On an advocacy level... well that's a whole other story :-)
So my plan now is to work out why consumers don't speak up, and how to fix it. Stay tuned...