Funder by the Department of Human Services Auspiced by Our Community


This document is designed for use by chairs and members (including consumer members) of decision-making committees in mental health. It can be used as-is or adapted to suit the needs of a particular committee.

Underlying this document is the assumption that members of committees that seek to involve consumers must learn how to do so with knowledge, humility and respect.

Ideally, the use of this document should be approved before any committee members are recruited. Selling it to a committee that has already been established can be difficult. Ideally it will be accompanied by consumer-run training designed to educate committees in working with consumers.

As a member of this committee:

I welcome the presence of consumers on this committee. I will demonstrate this in my support for the important role they play, and in my respect for the soundness of their judgement, their skills and their right to be decision-makers.

I understand and will promote the fact that no consumer can be the 'right consumer' for every issue. I will support the consumers on the committee in areas in which I have specialist expertise.

I acknowledge that consumer committee members are the experts in the consumer body of knowledge, a body of knowledge which must influence all deliberations of this committee.

I understand and respect the sociological concepts of agency, powerlessness, class, gender and race and the effect these have on all committee interactions. I acknowledge the power that may have been bestowed on me by privilege, class and education.

I understand that institutional power is often invisible, and that silencing consumers can be done in the nicest and most congenial of ways. If consumers display anger at being silenced, I will try not to see this anger as part of their 'mental illness' or as a result of their lack of committee skills, or as 'just behavioural'. I will not use the language of the 'medical model' to describe or judge any committee member.

I respect the imperative to listen to consumers. I respect their use of narrative when it's the best way to communicate essential intelligence to committee members. This is the way of oppressed groups and should be respected. I will listen with attention, respect and an assumption that something important is being shared.

I understand the need for consumer members to hold some meetings in consumer-friendly places rather than places that reinforce the power of the already powerful.

I accept that the nearest to best-practice model we have in health is the model of inclusion of indigenous people in health decision-making. I undertake to recognise that consumers wish to receive the same respect for their knowledge, heritage, and multigenerational pain, suffering and shame as many indigenous people.

I accept that no matter what my background is, and no matter who I do or do not represent, all committees have hierarchies of power and insiders and outsiders. I understand that consumers are more likely than other committee members to inhabit a place in the committee which leaves them sounding shrill or silences them. I recognise that it is incumbent on committee members to examine what they themselves are doing that may be causing this to happen.

I understand that consumers vary in their politics, their emotional commitment, the areas that are most important to them, the amount of time they have available, the resources they have and the degree to which they can or can't abandon consumer ethical codes as part of a bargaining plea with other committee members. I respect these differences and will try not to stand as arbiter of any consumer's passion, style or authority of diagnosis.

I acknowledge that the consumer movement is developing its own body of knowledge and its own code of ethics. I am familiar with the work that is going into these*. I support the consumer members of this committee as experts in their field. I expect consumers on the committee to be moral and ethical but not necessarily professional.

I recognise that consumers and carers are not the same group. I understand that treating them as one is unacceptable to many consumers. I recognise that both perspectives need a presence on most committees. I understand that there are many people who are both carers and consumers but that the vital issue is perspective. I understand that people identifying only as carers are not able to talk as consumers and vice versa. I understand that it is not okay to use the collective phrase 'consumers and their carers' in documents produced by the committee or in deliberations.

If I am a consumer or carer, I agree to identify myself as such, even if I am appointed to the committee as a lawyer, an accountant, an academic, a retired businessperson, a community member or anything else. I understand that this information will be kept confidential within the committee if needed. I understand that I have a responsibility to other committee members and to the decision-making process to acknowledge my multiple 'hats'.

Signature: ______________________________

Date: ______________________________

* For information about development in the consumer body of knowledge contact PAT (Psych. Action and Training) through Cath Roper, Centre for Psychiatric Nursing, University of Melbourne