Welcome to Our Consumer Place
Our Consumer Place is a resource centre run entirely by people diagnosed with "mental illness" (we choose to call ourselves "consumers"). We provide information, training, support and advice to consumer-developed groups and projects. We also support what we call "consumer perspective" recognising that the lived experience of "mental illness" provides a crucial source of insight that is of value and must be respected. We believe that we are part of an important cultural shift, towards valuing and respecting the lived experience of "mental illness."
Those of us diagnosed with "mental illness" have a unique perspective to offer. Our lived experiences are rich and varied: some of us experience madness, psyche-ache, emotional distress, hearing voices, mental breakdown or "mental illness" and we don't all make meaning from our experiences in the same way.
Many of us have experienced prejudice, exclusion and trauma. Many have used or survived mental health services, others haven't. Many of us have hidden our experiences, some of us share our experiences in various ways.
We all share the ability to reflect on our lives, our communities and the 'mental health system' from the perspective of having been through these experiences. Our Consumer Place is a resource for our voices to come together and become stronger.
We are based in West Melbourne (Victoria, Australia). We are funded by the Department of Health (Government of Victoria) and auspiced by Our Community. We are unique in Australia, but there are many similar services in Europe and the United States.
Our Consumer Place Publications:
A consumer's guide to mental illness interventions: a historical view
Did you know that the first iteration of de- institutionalisation happened in Geel in Belgium in the 14th Century? Or that thousands of Russians were locked up in the Soviet Union with a diagnosis of Sluggish Schizophrenia: poor social adaptation, conflict with authorities and pessimism? Did you know that the 'Moral Therapy' that predated early institutionalisation in the late 18th Century is still understood to have been humane, reasonable and kind? This booklet is a snapshot of the major waves of change through time as new ideas emerged, blossomed and then decayed; as the perception of mental despair turns to brain disease to psyche development and back again - nature, nurture, nature... It is in dot point form with lots of references for people to engage further in areas in which they have an interest.
Pluck, acceptance, defiance and fortitude: telling mental illness stories to change the world
Often organisations, services and bureaucracies call for 'representation' in the advice they get from consumers. This booklet argues that although this representation may be illusionary there are ways to understand the major consumer/survivor narratives that inform the stories that people tell not only about their experiences but also about the state of affairs in mental health provision. It is a short booklet for all who have an interest in understanding why consumer perspective is as it is and why there are storylines which are familiar and accountable. Are consumers coached to say what is wanted by services? Are 'grass-root' consumers sought because they are deemed suggestible? Are the loudest people the only ones who are heard? This booklet asks big questions about what constitutes knowledge and why 'logic and science' so often fails consumers.
Doing it together:
A collection of approaches, experiences and purposes of and in Groups, Committees, Organisations, Networks and Movements
This book introduces consumers and others dealing with or working in the mental health system, to the presence and workings of all kinds of 'groups' in that system; we examine and offer examples of groups engaging in different types of processes, with different purposes and operating across the many levels on which our health systems 'reproduce' themselves: everyday life and survival, therapeutic experiences, committee work in organisations and programs, advisory and consultative work at different political levels, and in the 'private' and 'public' areas of health service delivery.
Mad Workplaces: A commonsense guide for people with 'mental illness' on how to navigate the workplace
Mad Workplaces: A commonsense guide for workplaces about working alongside people with 'mental illness'
Many people who live with "mental illness" face complex barriers to meaningful, sustainable employment. Conversely, employing or working with a colleague who has "mental illness" can at times be confusing, frustrating and uncertain (including for people who also have "mental illness"!).
This two-headed book has something for everyone. It's quite different from others on the topic of "mental illness" and the workplace. It's not another resource produced by well-meaning charities or experts, telling people with "mental illness" what's good for us (or why working is good for us). It doesn't assume that people with "mental illness" are "sick" while the rest of the workplace is "healthy". We're not interested in giving out patronising advice about the importance of having a positive attitude, getting up early, eating sensibly and taking your medication.
Instead, we are offering up a realistic and useful booklet that is grounded in lived experience and willing to delve into the hard stuff. It's been written collaboratively by consumers, so we know from experience what we're talking about. There has also been significant consultation with people who employ consumers and people with expertise in relevant laws and employment practices.
Ideally, both consumers and those who work with us will read both sides of the book - and this will lead to true understanding.
In fact, we believe that intelligent management of "mental illness" in the workplace can transform work practices to create a more meaningful and sustainable workplace for everyone!
The Company We Keep: A user's guide to mental health clinicians
Our Consumer Place is pleased to announce the publication of the above booklet. It’s a simple and yet comprehensive booklet on mental health clinicians written from the perspective of the ‘patient’. It is unique in this sense. The booklet contains concrete information about such important topics as registration of clinicians, complaints procedures, medicare considerations, differences between the different clinical groups, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and the Federal Governments Better Access Scheme for allied health practitioners.
However, what makes this volume different is its perspective. There are discussions around experiences of clinician’s practice as identified and described by ‘patients’. It includes invaluable information about how to get your medical history under Freedom of Information Legislation, making a Psychiatric Advance Directive, writing a letter of complaint, thanking a clinician when you are still in a therapeutic relationship, experiences of student clinicians and some hints about how we could better help students and new psychiatrists, dealing with inappropriate behaviour of clinicians and making a formal complaint.
We believe that this is the booklet that the clinical sector has been waiting for. Although a booklet this size can never be totally comprehensive it gives consumers and other interested people information that will enable them to move towards a greater understanding of the practices and expectations we should hold for the clinicians who work in mental health.
Download a copy here
MadQuarry Dictionary 2013
The MadQuarry Dictionary came out of a competition asking consumers to enter ideas, concepts, acronyms, phrases and anything connected to the mental health sector that needed light hearted attention from a consumer perspective. We reduced the number of entries down to 350. We then added a little extra consumer mayhem by creating a dictionary style to the document and adding verb, noun, and proper noun etc at random.
This will be a challenging document for some who might feel personally attacked. This is not its purpose but we do not shy away from consumer’s right to comment on the mental health system. Consumers are aware that the different clinical groups use humour to critique each other. We have no intention of taking sides. This is our humour and will not be understood by some.
See the accompanying information sheet ‘MadQuarry Dictionary - a tool for understanding consumer perspective’. There are also two workshop outlines prepared as a guide to enhance consumers’ use of MadQuarry Dictionary as an educational tool.
Download a copy here
Resources for Educators:
Background information on Madquarry Dictionary (for Educators) available here
Resouces for a two-hour workshop for Clinicians:Workshop plan for Clinicians using MadQuarry Dictionary available here
Presentation Slides for Clinicians using MadQuarry Dictionary available here
Resouces for a two-hour workshop for Community Education:Workshop plan for Consumers using MadQuarry Dictionary available here
Presentation Slides for Consumers using MadQuarry Dictionary available here
The Consumer Movement in Australia: A memoir by Merinda Epstein
Our Consumer Place is proud to announce the launch of our first memoir. Merinda has been working as an advocate and activist in mental health for 27 years. She has worked in Victoria and interstate, at times travelling overseas to represent Australian consumers. She sat on the National Community Advisory Group in Mental Health in the 1990s followed by active participation in writing the constitution of the new Mental Health Council of Australia. She represented Victoria on the first Mental Health Consumer Network and was central to many statewide initiatives in her home State of Victoria.
Parts of this memoir are poignantly honest with Merinda talking about her experiences of being bullied and some of the big questions that still plague both mental health and the consumer movement. Merinda’s writing is both generous and compelling. Her memoir makes fascinating reading both for consumers and for everyone involved in mental health decision making.
She discusses the consumer-led changes services she has witnessed and the problems still faced by a sector which is grappling with ways to understand consumer expertise and leadership. Merinda envisages an enhanced and exciting role consumers will play in the future once they are unburdened from systemic prejudice that remains still in areas of mental health service provision.
Download a copy here
Every consumer we know has at some time or other been expected to be a meeting-sitter. Some sit on Boards as Directors. Some sit on committees for services. Some make a fine art of it and sit on many committees and others get co-opted with trepidation based on previous experience. All too frequently we are offered training in how to be a good committee wo/man, training that never seems to be offered to anyone else on the committee. This booklet takes a frontal assault on the assumptions implied by this sort of training.
This booklet starts from the assumption that it is the committee that needs training in how to respectfully include consumer expertise. Committees might have a lot of learning to do no matter how exalted or how local. It may be that understandings need to be acquired that are quite different from anything some of the external experts have ever been privileged to see before.
The booklet includes a tick-box certificate that we believe every committee member should sign before the committee commences, training provided by consumers, as well as information about dealing with some of the internal rankling within the consumer community. Most of the pieces have questions or contemplation points at the end, encouraging all of us to look beyond the obvious and towards ways consumers can generate the knowledge rather than just react to others’ discourse through meeting arrangements that polarise us
Download a copy here
OTHER OCP PUBLICATIONS:
"Psychobabble: the Little Red Book of Psychiatric Jargon"
Psychobabble has been put together by Merinda Epstein at Our Consumer Place in response to a demand from people diagnosed with 'mental illness' for a collection of psychiatric jargon, acronyms and what we think are some of the silly expressions used in psychiatry - it's our take on the words used by them (and sometimes us) about us.
While some of the explanations are provided simply to define terms and acronyms that people are very confused about, Psychobabble is also an attempt to provide a consumer perspective on concepts that many people (including some clinicians and consumers) haven't thought through or may be happy to leave as they are.
Of course, some parts of Psychobabble are also about having a light-hearted spray at the pontification and judgements made about us - consumers - by some clinicians and medical researchers. We don't believe that such a publication, written from a consumer perspective, has been produced in Australia before. Although Psychobabble is based on Victorian bureaucratic language, experience tells us that many of the words and explanations are transferable interstate and internationally.
We want others to contribute to this work. Please send your ideas, disagreements, reinterpretations, silly stuff, acronyms, and new bureaucratic-speak to Merinda at Our Consumer Place (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Download a copy here
"Deep Insight: Leaders in the International Mental Health Consumer/Survivor Movement share their thinking"
This booklet shares the brilliant and transformative thinking of 11 leaders in the international consumer/survivor movement including Shery Mead, Peter Beresford, Oryx Cohen, Ron Coleman, Mary O'Hagan and many more!
Much of this material has been published before in Our Consumer Place newsletters over the years, but we brought it all together into one booklet so you can enjoy a burst of brilliant, inspired and transformative consumer/survivor thinking in one go! It is a veritable smorgasbord!
Illustrated with new cartoons from Merinda Epstein, this wonderful resource is now available from our website. We can send hardcopies free to Victorian consumers. We sincerely hope you enjoy it - it has been a labour of love to produce!
Download a copy here
"Speaking Our Minds: A guide to how we use our stories"A FREE resource, written entirely by mental health consumers.
This booklet is all about mental health consumers' stories - how we use them, why we might not use them, and how we can best make use of our stories when we do share them.
This isn't just another book written by "mental health experts" telling us what's good for us; instead it's 84 pages all written from the perspective of those of us who have been there and have the stories to tell! And it includes some fabulous new cartoons from Merinda Epstein.
The booklet is free to download from our website (see below). It was launched by the Hon. Mary Wooldridge (Victorian Health Minister) at the opening of Mental Health Week, October 10th, 2011.
Download a copy here
"So, you've got a 'Mental Illness'? ... What now?"A FREE resource written entirely by mental health consumers
Finally! A resource written by those who have been there. This booklet is an introduction to the mental health system, to "consumer perspective" and to some of the diversity of how consumers respond to a diagnosis of 'mental illness,' written entirely by a team of mental health consumers.
It provides information ranging from what "consumer" means to how diagnoses work; from where to find help to human rights frameworks. It is brimming with useful information, all from the perspective of people with lived experience of 'mental illness.'
Beautifully illustrated with cartoons by batty cartoonist and 2004 HREOC Human Rights Award winner, Merinda Epstein, and punctuated througout with thoughts about madness, creativity, power, language and the human condition, this resource will appeal on many different levels.Praise for "So, you've got a 'Mental Illness'? ... What now?":
"Congratulations on a great publication. It is a pleasure to read something that reads so well. You have managed to find a voice that is accessible, sustains itself on the side of the consumer without being in any way shrill or provoking, and at the same time is very informative. I enjoyed reading it, which is a most unusual thing. Why can't all publications in the field of mental health be written in this sort of style. Perhaps the answer is both that it's not all that easy to achieve, as well as that people have been persuaded that managerial styles of writing is what we should be reading."
- Malcolm Morgan, Senior Manager from MIND Australia
Download a copy here