The ambulance has three flat tyres: Mental health service provision in crisis

by Sarah Daniel

On the 24th of April 2017, Prime Minister Bill English made a promise to increase funding for New Zealand’s mental health sector. This issue was likely placed higher on the PM’s radar after numerous news outlets and private citizens began sharing the stories of their negative, and often dangerously negligent, experiences with mental health services in New Zealand. With awareness rising among New Zealand’s citizens about the appalling state of our mental health services, one might think that this seemingly election-impacting issue would be of greater importance to our current Prime Minister. However, when asked directly whether an independent review into the sector’s service provision and funding allocations would be instigated, English stated that they “are not looking at doing a review, but are looking to do more” (The AM Show, 2017).

The decision not to call for an inquiry or an independent oversight of the system may come as a shock to those who have written to the government in recent months to express their concerns, or to anyone who has heard of or read the People’s Mental Health Report that was released to the public on the 19th of April 2017 (Elliot, 2017). The report’s findings of New Zealand citizen’s experiences of mental health services are staggeringly negative, with approximately 93% of those who responded to the open call by ActionStation focusing on the difficulties they faced in accessing the services, and the often disheartening and damaging experiences they had in engaging with “an over-stretched and under-resourced system” (Elliot, 2017, p. 3).

The likelihood that simply increasing the amount of funding for mental health services will generate measurable and lasting change is astronomically small. Despite funding for DHBs across the country increasing in recent years, it is difficult to determine how much is being directed towards services and programmes that target mental health (Woods, 2017), and there are still many cases of mental health programmes needing to close due to a lack of resources. In an interview with David Garner, Mike King, an NZ comedian and mental health campaigner, made the claim that the NZ government is so out-of-touch with the state of mental health in this country that they have little concept of what is needed to improve it (Bracewell-Worrall, 2017).

Every person who has ever lived has mental health, and like physical health, there are times when your own can become poor. If you were to break your arm, you would expect that you could visit your local A&E or emergency room, and be seen with relative urgency. Yet those experiencing poor mental health are left on inexplicably long wait lists, or dismissed entirely, until they reach a point of crisis, and even then, there is no guarantee that their condition will be responded to with urgency and respect. Treating our mental health services as the ‘ambulance at the bottom of the cliff’ clearly isn’t cutting it, especially since that ambulance seems to have three flat tyres and no driver. Hopefully this election season this epidemic of mental health crises will be given the level of attention and importance it so desperately needs.


Bracewell-Worral, A. (2017). Underfunded, under-resourced and over-medicating – Mike King slates mental health system. Retrieved from

Elliot, M. (2017). People’s Mental Health Report. ActionStation. Retrieved from

English, B. (2017). Final NZ Cabinet Re-Shuffle before Election. Retrieved from

Woods, A. (2017). Suicides in mental health care increasing in Bay of Plenty, OIA request figures show. Retrieved from


About socialworknz

I'm a social work researcher in Aotearoa New Zealand
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