Our people are dying, unhappy and ashamed: Mental Health in NZ

By Abigail Williams

The recent release of the annual budget for New Zealand, saw the health budget be given $16.77 billion, with $224 million of that being allocated to mental health (MH) services over the next 4 years. It is the biggest increase seen in the health sector for 11 years, but is being described as something that has been thrown together at the last minute and is not enough to combat MH in New Zealand. Since 2008, the need for MH services have increased 60%. I think a lot of this increase in seeking help has been as a result of the community campaigns about MH awareness and showing New Zealanders that there is help available. But is that a lie? Is the help really available? We have recently seen Mike King, quit his role on the suicide prevention panel, because of their “nonsense” draft plan, released in April (Mike King, as cited by Bracewell-Worrall & Bridge, 2017).

On a recent episode of Sunday, the mental health services in New Zealand were outed as being understaffed and overworked, which has ultimately lead to the suicides of over 500 New Zealanders annually. The show took us through a story of a young Cantabrian, Harry, who self admitted himself to Hillmorton hospitals inpatient MH unit. Harry committed suicide whilst under the care of the staff at Hillmorton, even after admitting to staff in the days leading up to his death, that he had suicidal ideations, and a plan to end his life.

What this segment highlighted was firstly, the lack of support and funding available in the MH sector, discussed earlier in this blog. Secondly it emphasised the shame felt by those given a MH diagnosis. The stigma of having a MH diagnosis is often described as a barrier to accessing MH services. In the literature it shows that only a fifth of those who meet MH criteria for treatment will access the available services, with the biggest prevention being the stigma that this entails (Pedersen & Paves, 2014). To tackle the stigma, I believe the first step is educating the wider community about mental illness, which has been a focus in New Zealand schools in recent years.

So the question remains; How do we best serve those in our community that are facing mental illness?

If we look to a trial based in Finland, we can see that one suggested solution is providing everyone with a basic income, regardless of job status. There is also the suggestion of utilizing technology and e-therapy, to make MH services more accessible and is able to be used as an individual is needing it. This is available in New Zealand, but it is a lengthy process of seeing your GP, being put on a waiting this, then engaging in a 12-week online programme. Could this service be made available to everyone, without a GP consult? Could a combination of an unconditional financial allowance, free and available e-therapy, and a continued emphasis of making the wider community aware of MH, begin to solve the MH crisis in New Zealand?

References:

Bracewell-Worrall, A., & Bridge, R. (2017, May 15). Mike King quits government suicide panel. Newshub. Retrieved from http://www.newshub.co.nz/home/newzealand/2017/05/mike-king-quits-government-suicide-panel.html

Pedersen, E. R., & Paves, A. P. (2014). Comparing perceived public stigma and personal stigma of mental health treatment seeking in a young adult sample. Psychiatry Research219(1), 143-150. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2014.05.017

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About socialworknz

I'm a social work researcher in Aotearoa New Zealand
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