Australia

Monsters preyed on mentally ill: advocate

Janet Meagher says people with a mental illness are often humiliated and denigrated. (AAP)

A Victorian royal commission has heard the stigma against people with a mental health condition is really discrimination.

Janet Meagher spent a decade in an institution for the mentally ill, where "monsters under the guise of health professionals created the most inhumane system of care imaginable".

Forty years after finishing her involuntary stay as a "guest of Her Majesty" at a large Sydney institution while being treated for paranoid schizophrenia, Ms Meagher continues to channel her anger into advocacy for people with mental illnesses.

The institution had some wonderful staff who were "horrendously marvellous" under the circumstances, she told Victoria's mental health royal commission on Wednesday.

"There were, parallel to that, monsters who were in the guise of nursing professionals and care professionals."

Ms Meagher said there was widespread sexual, physical and emotional abuse.

"In response I was extremely violent myself.

"I understand that now to be a reaction to the anger at the brazenness of people who claim they were health professionals, and at the same time turn around and create the most inhumane system of 'care' that you could possibly imagine.

"And because we were not competent before the law, no one would listen to what was happening."

Even now, Ms Meagher said, people with a mental illness "are just surviving".

"We are often depersonalised and humiliated and denigrated by the very fact that we have a mental illness and, secondly, by the nature of the services that are offered to us."

Ms Meagher wants the system that let her down fixed.

"My vision is that services will never, ever again in the name of treatment and care cause harm."

The 72-year-old has an equally clear message for Australia's first royal commission into the mental health system.

"I beg you for not another report.

"I beg you for a change that's going to move people from a place of behaviour modification to having a contributing life, and that has to start with the professionals who deal with us."

Ms Meagher, who is a member of the NDIS independent advisory council, hates the word stigma when it comes to describing attitudes to people with mental health conditions.

Stigma is too soft a word when it is really discrimination, she said.

"I think it is intolerable to permit or excuse verbal or social exclusion or vilification for those who experience mental health issues, but we do."

Teresa, whose struggle with mental health issues began when she was 12, shared her story with the royal commission to let others know they are worthwhile and deserve help.

"When I was in hospital I recognised that it was my fear and shame about what I had been going through that had really prevented me from being able to access support," she said.

"I don't want someone else to feel that way."

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