"For a society to be fair and equitable, it is essential that all are able to live and prosper as best they can."

For Johanna Bowers, adequate and accessible mental health services are fundamental to people's basic human rights. This belief and conviction will be key to her role as Implementation Lead for the new Mental Health and Wellbeing Act, a key feature of Albury Wodonga Health's Mental Health And Wellbeing Service Transformation project.

The new Act comes after the 2021 Royal Commission which outlined the changes needed to create a future mental health and wellbeing system that provides holistic treatment, care and support for all Victorians. It made 65 recommendations – all of which have been adopted by the Victorian Government – with the aim of rebuilding the state's mental health system. The recommendations are broad and complex, but the main findings are simple: our current overburdened and understaffed mental health system is failing Victorians. This is especially true for people in regional areas.

The work to rebuild our mental health system is underway and health services across the state – Albury Wodonga Health included – have begun the task of transforming the way Mental Health and Wellbeing (MH&W) services are delivered to their communities. One of our initial priorities is preparing for the introduction of the new Mental Health and Wellbeing Act, which officially comes into effect from Friday 1 September 2023. The new Act supports the recommendations from the Victorian Royal Commission into Mental Health and underpins the vision for transformation of Mental Health services. It's this area where Jo will be bringing her considerable exerience and insight.

The New Act At A Glance
The new Act is a key recommendation of the Royal Commission. The Mental Health and Wellbeing Act 2022 resets the legislative foundations of the system. It also establishes new roles and entities recommended by the Royal Commission. It's intended that the new Act will:

  • Promote the good mental health and wellbeing for all people living in Victoria
  • Establish a new legislative framework for the mental health and wellbeing system
  • Support the delivery of services that are responsive to the needs and preferences of Victorians
  • Put the views, preferences and values of people living with mental illness or psychological distress, families, carers and supporters at the forefront of service design and delivery. 


Meet Johanna Bowers - Implementation Lead


Tell us a bit about your background and previous roles
I began my psychiatric nursing career in Melbourne, gaining experience in IPU, Child, adolescent and family care and then with Forensicare in both prison and community based programs. In 2007, my husband and I moved to the Ovens Valley and I began working with NEBMHS as a Case Manager, then on the ART/ACIS team. I also worked with the initial centralised MH Triage Service based in Wangaratta, and for a time as NUM of Kerferd Unit. Most recently I have been the Manager of Older Persons Mental Health Service. Following a period of leave I have now returned and taken on the Mental Health and Wellbeing Act, Implementation Lead.   

What is the role of the Implementation Lead?
The role of the Implementation Lead is to help the service transition to the new Mental Health and Wellbeing Act. Also to lead Act Implementation Activities such as Q&A sessions, meetings with staff, and responding to staff enquiries. I am an information resource moving details and information from the department to the service. I also feel a big part of the role is to highlight the transformational nature of change that the new Act brings about. The new Act is one of many recommendations arising from the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health service system and it is explicit in its adoption of a rights-based, principle-led and consumer-centred approach.   

How will you be supporting our mental health staff?
We have established an Implementation Team in each of the Victorian based Mental Health programs. These champions will be taking details and information to the broader staffing group. We have a schedule of site visits and meeting attendances for the coming weeks. I am also planning on extending contact to the ED staff in both Victoria and NSW given their need to have awareness of the legislative frameworks. There will be e-learning modules coming in the next couple of week for staff to complete along with a range of literature available for reference and direction. While the new Act comes into effect on September 1, there will be on-going contact and activity around it.   

How would you summarise the changes to the Mental Health Act?
One of the first changes I noticed in the new Mental Health and Wellbeing Act is the statement of principles, which is found in Chapter 1; up front and clearly stating the principles by which mental health and wellbeing services will be developed and provided. They outline processes for treatment and protection of the rights of consumers, their families and carers, whilst also promoting autonomy and self-determination.

Other changes include:

  • A commitment to elevating lived experience and leadership into service systems, bringing expertise and insights.
  • Strengthening the oversight of the system and enhancing transparency.  
  • Moving to a health-led approach in crisis situations

Why are these changes so important?
Incorporation of a human rights focus is an imperative for a Victorian Health Service. The Victorian Government signed The Charter of Human Rights and responsibilities in 2006. Once this happens, public authorities must observe those rights. Putting this knowledge together with what was learnt through the Royal Commission presents a challenge and opportunity. The changes in the Act take up this challenge and seek to establish a mental health service system that is accessible, responsive, respectful, equitable, collaborative and high-quality.

What are the top three things you want staff to know about the mental health act?
1. Become familiar with the Principles in Chapter 1. I recognise in the Principles, a lot of what I see when moving about AWH MH services and I have confidence that we are able to work in the spirit and the processes of this new Act.
2. There is a requirement for all consumers to be given a copy of the statement of their rights. These will be provided to staff very soon.
3. This new Act is aimed at transformation of the MH service system rather than simply updating forms and processes. There is to be further review in five years to see how things are moving and what needs fine tuning. It’s an exciting time to be working in mental health services.   

Why do you think adequate mental health services are so important?
For a society to be fair and equitable, it is essential that all are able to live and prosper as best they can. With inadequate MH services, individuals and their families experience higher levels of financial insecurity, limited access to education, poor health care, intergenerational trauma, isolation, and more. These are all basic human rights. When a society does not allow for adequate mental health care, there is a restriction of human rights and a lessening for all.  

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