Mental health system in New Zealand – Breakdown

By Jasmine Sehgal

The Mental Health Foundation (2014), explains how many New Zealanders suffer from several issues like mental disorders, psychological distress, anxiety, depressive disorders etc. One in six adults had been diagnosed with a common mental disorder at some time in their lives. A total of 158,158 clients were seen by Mental Health and Addiction Services (Ministry of Health, 2016). Being new to gaining knowledge of the nuances of Mental Health Services in New Zealand, I feel intrigued by how a high number of people are being engulfed by various mental disorders. What may be the reason behind such increasing numbers?

Most people see the Mental Health System as broken, underfunded, understaffed and inadequate. The failure manifests itself in many ways. Overworked and stressed practitioners seem to have quit, adequate beds are not available and there is no idea as to where and how is the funding of these services being utilized. Mental health advocate Mike King seems to be concerned about the fact that people under 13 years of age are being medicated and being given anti-depressant drugs. There is an incident quoted by him where he explains how a woman who attempted suicide, at being taken to the hospital, didn’t meet the threshold for help and was dropped back home. Perhaps, at a big risk? (Garner, 2017).

I come from a place, where people are struggling to overcome the ‘taboo’ created around mental health disorders. Given the said circumstances in New Zealand, its saddening to see, the myriad kind of obstacles a patient must go through to receive adequate mental health services to help them lead a fulfilling life they deserve

A noteworthy challenge reported by service users is difficulty accessing the right service fast enough and a desire for more treatments that did not involve medication. They also found it tough to give a feedback regarding reporting bad experiences or to hold the service providers to account for poor services (TVNZ, 2017).

A person going through depression or anxiety disorder wouldn’t likely be able to patiently wait for the right treatment to reach him. A mental patient who may be reluctant or embarrassed about speaking up, would eventually may feel more frustrated by the wrong service or poor quality treatment administered to him.

New Zealanders working in mental health, call the system underfunded and in crisis. They believe, there is a consistent waiting for beds in mental health care facilities and inadequate staff. Andy Colwell, a mental health social worker, has given an account of how one of the DHBs in Auckland was unable to provide the service they are funded for and part of the Mental Health Crisis Team failed to carry out its duties due to lack of available staff (Wright, 2016).

Here, I can think of Kintsugi, a Japanese art, of filling broken pottery spaces with gold, which is a way of recognizing beauty and strength in broken things. A question to consider here is, are we doing enough to mend broken pieces together towards peoples’ empowerment? Are we acknowledging the wounds and appreciating the struggle people with mental health problems go through? We need a system wherein people are healed, empowered and compassionately dealt with, to ensure wellbeing and harmony.


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

Mental Health Foundation. 2014. Mental Health Foundation: Quick Facts and Stats 2014. Retrieved from

Ministry of Health. 2016. Mental health data and stats. Retrieved from

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

Wright, T. (2016, 31 October) What’s behind New Zealand’s mental health funding crisis? News Hub. Retrieved from


About socialworknz

I'm a social work researcher in Aotearoa New Zealand
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