Mental health stories drive change: Immediate reactions and future direction

by Jamie Blundell

The recently published People’s Mental Health Review  is the result of a crowdfunded and crowdsourced project that captures the stories of 500 people with experience of New Zealand’s mental health system. The majority came from people using or tying to access mental health services, but also included family members’ experiences and people working within the mental health services. Whilst the vast majority of these stories came from those experiencing problems or challenges in using or working in mental health services (a negative reporting bias), there were also stories containing distinctly positive elements. Based on a thematic analysis of these stories, four recommendations were made: urgent funding increases for mental health services at a national level; independent oversight of the system by restoring the Mental Health Commission or similar; an urgent independent inquiry informed by the Convention of the Rights of People with Disabilities; and a national education programme to increase awareness of mental health and the services provided (p. 5; 27).

The media have given their reaction to the release of this report, with current Prime Minister Bill English agreeing that more funding was needed to match increasing demand for mental health services but said there would be no formal review of the mental health system. This is despite the fact that Labour, the Greens and New Zealand First have all called for a review of mental health services. In particular, Green Party health spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter has backed the report’s findings and an inquiry is seen as the only sure way to get to the heart of the systemic issues at play. Duncan Garner believes that we need to reinstate a Mental Health Commissioner to show us where we’ve been going wrong and the current Health Minister, Jonathan Colman, should be the one to get the ball rolling.

The Mental Health Commission was set up in 1996 following a government inquiry into the state of mental health services at the time. The report following the inquiry, known as the Mason Report ], found that the services provided to individuals and family/whānau experiencing mental health problems was lacking in certain key areas. However, it was disestablished in 2012 and The Office of the Health and Disability Commissioner took its place with the aim of continuing the gains made by the Mental Health Commission. One of the final pieces of work by the Mental Health Commission was Blueprint II , which set out a vision of “mental health and wellbeing is everyone’s business” (p. 6) and strategy for mental health services across New Zealand until 2022. In this important document, 8 key priorities were identified relating to specific populations, such as children and Māori, as well as much broader aims in terms of reducing discrimination, improving the quality of care and system performance (p. 23; 24-34). The document goes on to highlight five areas that success will be measured by (p. 35), using population and service level monitoring.

It seems that the People’s Mental Health Review has paved the way for another mental health inquiry. Their message of “Stories create empathy and empathy helps drives change” (p. 9) is a compelling one, and one that the current Government would be unwise to ignore. It has now been over 20 years since the Mason Report was first published in 1996 and, although the Government has promised to increase funding for mental health, much more still needs to be done.


One News (2017, 19 April). New Zealand’s mental health system is failing, according to new report. One News. Retrieved from:

Bracewell-Worrall, A. (2017, 24 April). Bill English promises mental health funding increase but no review. Newshub. Retrieved from:

Elliott, M. (2017). People’s Mental Health Review. ActionStation. Retrieved from:

Garner, D. (2017, 22 April). Duncan Garner: A piece of my mind: The mental health system is failing. Stuff. Retrieved from:

Mason, K. (1996). Inquiry under Section 47 of the Health and Disability Services Act 1993 in respect of certain mental health services. Retrieved from:

Mental Health Commission (2012).  Blueprint II: How things need to be. Retrieved from:


About socialworknz

I'm a social work researcher in Aotearoa New Zealand
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