Fallout from the Failure of the NZ Mental Health System

By Genii Law

The New Zealand mental health system is overloaded, underfunded and nearing a breakdown that would result in catastrophic consequences upon the people who rely upon it.  Please take a moment to think about the background and fallout from such a scenario before ruling it out as mere hyperbole.  The simple proof is reflected by our rates of suicide.

More men take their own lives than women, but the gap is the smallest it has ever been due in part to female suicides reaching record numbers (Walters, 2016).  On the whole New Zealand’s suicide rates are the highest they have ever been, and this is further compounded by this country’s position at the top of the pile for teen suicides among developed countries (McConnell, 2016).

When someone successfully carries out his or her attempt at suicide, the problems do not end there as the victims’ loved ones are left to pick up the pieces.  Thus, those left behind end up requiring therapeutic help from the system that had failed them in the first place.  Bereavement in worse case scenarios may even lead people to have their own mental health problems which could end in suicide.

Stigma plays a huge role in mental illnesses that lead to suicide and that is very unfortunate.  There needs to be more conversations about mental health from all levels of government and the society.  There needs to be more effort in encouraging people to talk and change their mind-sets about their mental health.  People need to know that there is no shame in opening up, whether it is someone afflicted by depression or just simply talking about a family member who is suffering.  More often than not, simply starting a conversation could lead to some good ideas and cause someone to rethink suicide and seek help.  A prime example of an effort to help people overcome prejudices about suicide is the Heads Together campaign (https://www.headstogether.org.uk/).

The government must change their blasé attitude towards dealing with this tragedy.  Recently, Minister of Health Jonathan Coleman shot down a proposal to have an inquiry to evaluate mental health services.  He defended that decision by citing that the supposed high quality of the current mental health system would be bolstered by some extra $568 million in funding this year (Broughton, 2017).  Mr Coleman does not understand that simply throwing money at a problem will not make it go away.  There needs to be a well-informed plan in place so that funds can be efficiently utilised.  Furthermore, mental health problems are not isolated, but are linked to various social issues.

A greater effort is required to increase awareness on every aspect of mental health, so that people can overcome their fears to talk about it.  Access to mental health services need to be made more easily accessible, so that help can reach someone in need before it is too late.  Mental illnesses, social problems, stigma, poor attitudes and inaction are all linked in a vicious cycle that is so frustratingly preventable.


Broughton, C. (2017). Hundreds of suicides of people in care reveal cracks in health system – labour. Retrieved from http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/91653540/suicides-in-care-reveal-cracks-in-health-system–labour

McConnell, G. (2016). The highest rate of teen suicide in the developed world. Retrieved from http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/85305366/the-highest-rate-of-teen-suicide-in-the-developed-world

Walters, L. (2016). NZ suicide toll: More discussion needed to bring down ‘unacceptably high’ rate, chief coroner says. Retrieved from http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/85449334/NZ-suicide-toll-More-discussion-needed-to-bring-down-unacceptably-high-rate-Chief-Coroner-says


About socialworknz

I'm a social work researcher in Aotearoa New Zealand
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