Is the government attempting to police mental health issues away?

By Rosie L Cait

Start, stop, reflect, begin again, attempting to write this in advance left me with a blog out of touch due to the current high profile our mental health system. This start and stop nature is not too dissimilar from those tasked with attempting to break through the ‘needy enough’ barriers which abound when an individual tries to seek help from our woeful mental health service. Last week The People’s Mental Health Review report was publicised , it shared 500 stories of people’s experience with the system. It showed how mental health distress impacts people all over NZ, from all walks of life with the majority believing that the system is in crisis. This report is backed up by media that is overwhelmed with articles relating to mental health : ‘Auckland mental health services crumbling‘ , ‘young man’s care criticised‘ , hospital delays mental health programme so it can meet budget’ . These are just some examples of what is happening in mental health. Pressures in the system are also highlighted in blogs such as this ‘day in the life‘ blog where a mental health nurse shares that often those that work within the system feel unable to adequately help their clients.

The release of the People’s Review has at least made the government take notice and maybe, just maybe, they are beginning to listen. The prime minister’s response to the People’s Review was to pledge more funding, though there was no acknowledgement of how and when. He was however, adamant that there is no need for a review. It is hard to fathom why our government is being so blind. Especially since hot on the tails of the People’s Review was the report Thinking outside the box? which drew attention to the unacceptable use of seclusion and restraint that is found not only in our prisons but in our mental health and youth services.

One issue highlighted was the use of restraint chairs in police cells, which were used on a high number of individuals suffering ill mental health or who suicide attempts, the report indicated that the chair was used because “staff feel they are not trained to monitor mentally unwell people” (Cowlishaw, 2017). In February this year the police union stated that police were often the first to respond to threatened and attempted suicide and that the number of call outs had increased in the last 3 years. This means that many people are in a crisis before they seek help or they have had no success within the mental health system. Interestingly on April 12th it was announced that there would be an extra 880 frontline police officers in the next 4 years. Admittedly the police do a lot more than working with clients who are mentally distressed, however a lot of the work they do stems from the inequalities in our society, which for many runs alongside poor mental health. Surely some of the funding allocated to the police would be better spent on mental health and other social services, so police can focus on policing rather than mental health care.

If the police had to be involved with my parent who has bipolar, an already distressing situation would become even more so. Thankfully my parent has been fortunate in their mental health care but many others have not been so lucky, surely the government would prefer a preventative rather than reactive approach? It clearly time for a review of the mental health system, the government needs to accept and admit there are failings and create an opportunity to learn from these. As Ria Bond from NZ First acknowledges

“The challenges to the mental health system are vast and complex.  It will require leadership and a willingness from the government to learn what it doesn’t know”

With this I most definitely agree.


Bond, R. (2017, April 26). From the beehive with Ria Bond. Fairfax Media Digital. Retrieved from

Cowlishaw, S. (2017, April 26). Report paints shocking picture of ‘medieval’ NZ restraint practices.  Newsroom.  Retrieved from


About socialworknz

I'm a social work researcher in Aotearoa New Zealand
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