Lack of Review, What’s New?

By Alex

The government’s refusal to review the mental health sector reflects the neoliberal assumption that everyone has equal access to their services. A recent report by Action Station  shows that more than 90% of service users were frustrated by the mental health system. The report stated that, alongside an inquiry, an urgent funding boost and independent body is needed to provide ongoing oversight of the sector.  Why then are Health Minister Jonathan Coleman and Prime Minister Bill English  rejecting an inquiry into the mental health sector?

An inquiry into mental health system would expose where funding is currently going. If the government understands what works best in the mental health sector, they will be able to provide improved and more accessible services. For example, services that have early community based interventions are rare, yet provide easier access, are cost effective and support people experiencing mental health challenges before reaching crisis. Yet the government is continuing to funnel funding into crisis management that is often ineffective and costly. An inquiry would also empower service users to challenge the system in which they need to access. The lack of oversight only promotes the issue of Aotearoa’s high rate of compulsory treatment orders and the racist structures that live in it. This can be seen with the over-representation of Maori in the mental health system, where they are 3.6 times more likely to face compulsory treatment than non-Maori- despite the fact that Maori only represent approximately 15% of Aotearoa’s population.

My third-year placement was in a mental health residential service, so I have first-hand experience of how the lack of resources, funding and effective practices impact the recovery journey. Time and time again I was told by experienced staff that the mental health system is always seen to be the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. As a social work student, I often wonder why this is the central narrative in mental health?

The topic of mental health needs to been seen as a wider societal issue, in which many systemic factors contribute to accessibility to services, or lack thereof. The continuing gaps in system, lack of staff, training, resources, oversight and wages also contribute to the strained system. Although the system is seen to have moved away from institutionalisation, people experiencing mental health challenges are still affected by discrimination and racism. Wider social, political and environmental factors can impact peoples’ mental health, yet the government is continuing to place individual blame on people by not acknowledging this. The impact of external factors needs to be what underpins policy changes in order to create an improved and more accessible mental health system. An inquiry would aid these changes as the government would be able to see where resources would best be located.

The government needs to have an inquiry around where the money is being spent and who is spending it. Increasing funding is not the only answer, finding areas where money is most needed and most beneficial is imperative to improving the effectiveness of our failing mental health system. Mental health does not exist in a vacuum, there are a myriad of influences including social issues such as housing, homelessness and family violence which are not unknown but unfortunately not reflected within today’s Mental Health system- this is something that an inquiry would expose and aid future approaches.

If you also demand better public mental health services in Aotearoa please sign Action Stations petition:


Action Station. (2017). What did people’s mental health stories tell us?. Retrieved 26 April 2017, from

Mental Health Commission. (2007). Te Haererenga mo te Whakaoranga 1996-2006: The       journey of recovery for the New Zealand mental health sector. Wellington: Mental Health Commission.

Newshub. (2017).  Bill English promises mental health funding increase – but no review. Retrieved 28 April 2017, from

Newsie (2017). – Difference of opinion on mental health report – United, Independent New Zealand News. Retrieved 28 April 2017, from

Statistics New Zealand. (2017). Retrieved 28 April 2017, from


About socialworknz

I'm a social work researcher in Aotearoa New Zealand
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