Creating a better mental health system in Victoria

Monday, September 23, 2019
The economic and social costs of poor mental health in Australia are significant. In 2016, the National Mental Health Commission estimated the cost to be around $60 billion to the Australian economy1.
The social cost is even more devastating, with a complex interrelationship with other factors of disadvantage, including family violence, childhood trauma and family separation, homelessness, interactions with the justice system, poverty and unemployment.
For children and young people who have experienced childhood trauma, their risk of mental illness and suicide increases significantly. 
Children in out-of-home care have rates of mental health problems up to five times higher than the general population and more than double the rate of serious suicide attempts2. Yet the negative impacts of child abuse and neglect affect not only children in care, but also their families and wider communities. 
Right now, the child protection and mental health systems are ill-equipped to support these children and their families effectively, which can lead to a cycle of intergenerational trauma and disadvantage. 

Adding our voice to the Royal Commission


We have made several submissions to the Royal Commission: two Berry Street Submissions, and a further submission that positions lived experience at the forefront of recommendations for change, titled ‘Curing the Sickness of the System’. This third submission is the collation and analysis of the experiences of eight Berry Street Y-Change team members, authored by their team leader who is also a young woman with lived experience of Victoria’s mental health system.

Berry Street’s Submissions
These submissions highlight the need to:
  1. Invest in early interventions to help strengthen families and keep them together safely. 
  2. Reform the mental health and child protection systems so they’re more connected, responsive and evidence-informed.
  3. Strengthen system and workforce capability across the mental health and child protection systems to intervene early and effectively to prevent a cycle of disadvantage.
Berry Street has made 17 recommendations to the Commission. We have emphasised that to make the biggest impact on mental health for this group of young people, the Victorian Government needs to invest significantly in early intervention: we need more services that keep families together safely. We look forward to working with government and partners to achieve this. 
Curing the Sickness of the System: Y-Change’s Submission
Berry Street’s Y-Change team is a social and systemic change platform for young people aged 18-25 with lived experiences of socioeconomic disadvantage. At the heart of ‘Curing the Sickness of the System’ are the voices of eight Lived Experience Consultants from the Y-Change team. These are young people with a lived experience of mental ill-health and other intersecting issues such as alcohol and drug abuse, homelessness, family violence and experiences of the out-of-home care system. 
Young people who have experienced disadvantage are the only people who can tell us what a policy looks and feels like when it comes to life. They are key knowledge holders in the search for ‘what works’ and the understanding of what doesn’t, and they must be at discussion and decision-making tables, always. 
“There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach because there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution for people’s mental health.” – Kaitlyne, 22, Berry Street Lived Experience Consultant
Y-Change’s Recommendations:
  1. Nothing about us without us – developing the Commission’s final recommendations in partnership with people with lived experience
  2. A shift towards holistic and therapeutic care
  3. Mental health literacy as part of Victorian Curriculum and schools’ culture
  4. Growing the lived experience workforce as a specialised, integrated and legitimate field of practice as part of service sector reform
  5. Strengthening the mental health and wider community service sector workforce through specialised training and workplaces that centre wellbeing
  6. Lifting the most marginalised young people and their communities out of crisis and breaking the cycle of intergenerational trauma
  7. Equalising the balance between awareness-raising and capacity building initiatives

Read Full Submission (pdf)


1. National Mental Health Commission (2016) Economics of Mental Health in Australia,, accessed 30 July 2019
2. Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) (2019) Child and Youth Mental Health, tabled June 2019,, accessed 12 July 2019