Hospital based care 13 June 2023

Co-designing for better mental health

Each year, around one in five Victorians will experience mental health challenges.

This means we may all be impacted at some point. Whether directly, or indirectly, as a friend, family member, carer or supporter.

While not all people will need acute support such as a mental health bed, some will.

The Victorian Government’s Mental Health Beds Expansion Program is providing additional support for people experiencing acute mental health challenges who require immediate treatment.

This increased capacity will reduce pressure on emergency departments.

Once complete, the program will provide hundreds of extra public mental health beds in metropolitan and regional Victoria. They will provide acute mental healthcare for more than 6,500 more Victorians each year.

The $801 million co-designed program is part of the Victorian Government's urgent response to recommendations from the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System.

The Commission provided 65 recommendations for reform of Victoria’s mental health and wellbeing system.

Co-design: designing with, not for, people

Judith Hemsworth is a Principal Advisor Design – Mental Health, for Victoria’s Department of Health.

She says co-design challenges power discrepancies positively and constructively. Between those making decisions, and those affected by them.

The program engaged consumers, carers, supporters and health workers as equal partners.

'This is in recognition that people with lived and living experience using Victoria's mental health system have the right to be recognised, respected and partnered within policy, service and system change.'

Participants are remunerated. This formalises their role in the project and signals their time and input is valued. Just the same as any other project member.

Profile image of Judith Hemsworth

‘Co-design is about designing with, not for, people. It involves actively sharing power in decision making. Prioritising relationships, building capability, and using participatory methods. To build and create things together.’

Judith Hemsworth, Principal Advisor Design – Mental Health, Department of Health

Bringing co-design to life

Co-design uses different methods to draw out diverse perspectives. This helps uncover hopes, needs and wants through creative and engaging approaches.

One example used in the Mental Health Beds Expansion Program was a walk-through of a prototype.

'Not everyone can understand drawings or what the scale of a space might feel like,' says Judith. 'But you can walk through a prototype and see what it's like and how it feels.'

Modern mental health facilities have been co-designed with people who have lived experience of Victoria’s mental health system.

Text on screen: The Victorian Government is investing $492 million to deliver 120 new mental health beds across Victoria.

IMAGES: Time lapse footage of a module being constructed from frame-work through to finished construction

Text on screen: The Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System recommended involving a diverse range of voices in the design process for these new beds

IMAGES: A montage of views of the prototype module from the outside, then inside with visitors assessing the facilities

Text on screen: including people with lived experience of mental illness, their carers and mental health services and workers.

IMAGES: close ups of visitors discussing the facility’s fit-out

Text on screen: To achieve this we provided tours of a full-scale prototype of a mental health bedroom and ensuite

IMAGES: Visitors checking light fittings, furnishings and taps within the prototype

Text on screen: then captured the thoughts and impressions of our prototype visitors through an online survey.

IMAGES: Visitors filling out an online review form on their phones post-visit

Text on screen: Visitors gained a first-hand experience of how the room will look and feel

IMAGES: A visitor group checking the dimensions of the module, and a slow pan around the bedroom area

Text on screen: and shared opinions on elements including safety features, furnishings and privacy.

IMAGES: Visitor examining a shuttered window, then a group talking with one of the module’s architects

Text on screen: This form of community engagement is just one of the ways we’re designing the ideal environment for recovery and wellbeing.

IMAGES: Visitors discussing the prototype, then a final external shot of the prototype module.

Images: A transition slide shows the text ‘In partnership with Mental Health Reform Victoria (logo), then the closing slide is the Victorian Health Building Authority logo, the web address and the Victoria State Government logo. 

End of transcript

Craig Wallace contributed to the Mental Health Beds Expansion Program as a Senior Adviser Lived Experience (Consumer) for Mental Health Reform Victoria in 2021.

He has spent around 172 nights in acute mental healthcare over 30 years.

He has been able to apply his firsthand knowledge to co-designing the Mental Health Beds Expansion Program. As well as support others to provide input.

Walking through a prototype of a mental health bedroom unit, Craig says he can think of little things that help create a therapeutic space for recovery. Things that people without firsthand experience might not think of.

'We're talking about having artwork, natural light, storage for people's belongings.'

Craig also stressed the importance of creating a home-like environment.

'Being able to turn on and off the lights in a normal way. Having fittings that you might have in a normal home.'

Better design benefits everyone

Judith Hemsworth adds one of the most challenging but important aspects of co-designing is ensuring all participants have an equal voice. Even when their views don't align with clinicians or design professionals.

'Done well, co-design can start to redress some of the power imbalances experienced by many consumers and their carers and supporters within Victoria's mental health system.'

Bringing firsthand perspectives can broaden other project members’ understanding of how design can affect physical, emotional and mental health.

Dr David Fenn is a Medical Director for North Western Mental Health. He sees co-designing mental healthcare as beneficial for all involved.

‘It creates a space and environment where staff can support consumers on their recovery journey,' he explains.

'I think for both staff and for patients, it's a great step forward.’

Find out more about our Mental Health Beds Expansion Program. 

Looking for mental health support? 

Mental health helplines can provide support if you or someone you know is experiencing mental ill health:

  • Beyondblue - call 1300 224 636 for telephone support, information and resources for people dealing with depression or anxiety.
  • Lifeline - call 13 11 14 for this free, 24-hour Australia-wide crisis support and suicide prevention service.
  • Kids Help Line - call 1800 55 1800 for free counselling and advice for young people between the ages of five and 25.

A comprehensive list of counselling, online and phone supports for mental health is also available on the Better Health Channel website.

Illustration of community members engaging with a VHBA project

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Last updated: 13 June 2023