Addressing the ‘Health’ of our Mental Health System

By Leon Reed

Here’s the shortest tale you’ll read on the state of our mental health system. Now I can’t tell you what the end entails, or whether it’s happy, sad or something in between. But what I can tell you about the ending is, that, we aren’t there yet.

Context. Let’s talk about mental health. Mental Health is “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to contribute to his or her community”. The key is that ‘mental health’ is not equivalent to ‘mental illness’. Therefore, we need to have a system which accounts for the characteristics (determinants) of health, rather than simply addressing the clinical nature of illness and outcomes.

A brief look at NZ mental health:

  • Approximately 1/5 people will be affected by mental illness annually; and 47% of the population will experience a mental health-related condition within wither lifetime.
  • Mental health expenditure has increased from $202.5 million to around $1.4 million (2008-2016). Although allocated funding is dependent on each DHB.
  • There is a 2.5x likelihood of being seen by mental health services for those living in the most deprived areas.
  • Between 2012-2013, mental health and addiction services saw 154,752 clients; of which Maori were the largest proportion (Kirk, 2017).
  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death.

(Bracewell-Worrall, 2017; HPA, 2017; Kirk, 2017).

Demand for the necessary mental health services are increasing; however, the supply rate is seriously under strain. Mental health workers are already laden with huge caseloads and requirements, along with the general constraints of time, funding, and resourcing (Bracewell-Worrall, 2017).

Next chapter, The people’s review. The proposed mental health review aims to address how the system is funded, workloads, early intervention, and reinstating a commission (Bracewell-Worrall, 2017). Plot twist, it’s a no for the Mental Health Review; for now, that is. While there is no confirmation for a review at present, we can’t rule out further means of evaluating the system in the future.

In waiting for the structural forces to make stronger commitments to system improvements, we must play our part. We can try to: improve training, education and awareness around mental health for the public and practitioners (e.g. through active, workshop-based, online, and community network methods) (Mason, Wolf, O’Rinn, & Ene, 2017). Create safe spaces for meaningful conversations about mental health. And collaborate! This requires the union of an array of knowledge, skills, evidence, and supports across different domains (e.g. education, health, medicine, community, cultural leaders) (Mason, et. al., 2017). All, with purpose of developing an integrate, mental health system.

Finally, this journey through the highs and lows, and visions and hopes for our mental health system, has come to an end. As for creating and sustaining that flourishing and necessary mental health system that we deserve, that journey and outcome we aim for, well, we’re just not there…yet.


Bracewell-Worrall, A. (2017). Bill English promises mental health funding increase – but no review. Newshub. Retrieved from

Kirk, S. (2017). Budget 2016: The pressure points – mental health in New Zealand. Stuff.Co.Nz. Retrieved from–mental-health-in-new-zealand

Mason, R., Wolf, M., O’Rinn, S., & Ene, G. (2017). Making connections across silos: Intimate partner violence, mental health, and substance use. BMC Women’s Health17(1).

Mental health | HPA – Health Promotion Agency. (2017). Retrieved 28 April 2017, from


About socialworknz

I'm a social work researcher in Aotearoa New Zealand
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