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Mental Health Service Welcomes Sign Language Moves

Draft Media Release
October 28 2003

Mental Health Service Welcomes Moves on Sign Language

New Zealand’s first mental health service for the Deaf has welcomed plans to recognise New Zealand Sign Language as the third official language of New Zealand.

The Deaf Mental Health Service was established in 2001 under a joint venture between experienced mental health providers Richmond Fellowship New Zealand and Auckland’s Framework Trust, following research that shows 44% of Deaf people have an unidentified or un-met mental health requirement.

This week Cabinet agreed to the introduction of a New Zealand Sign Language Bill to Parliament by the end of the year. Minister for Disability Issues Ruth Dyson says the purpose of official recognition is to acknowledge Deaf 1 people's language as a unique New Zealand language and give it the same status as spoken languages.

The Team Leader of the Deaf Mental Health Service, Linda Hall, says recognition of New Zealand Sign Language will provide further encouragement for psychiatrists and psychologists to improve communication and provide culturally appropriate services. “Deaf culture is distinctly different to ours and there is an underlying distrust of the hearing world. Deaf people need an interpreter to visit their GP regarding a physical health problem, and so it has hardly been realistic to expect them to reveal their mental health issues without one.” Many health professionals still mistakenly believed they could communicate effectively with all Deaf people by passing notes, she said.

The Deaf Mental Health Service has a foundation contract with the Ministry of Health to provide services for 25 people, from Northland to Tauranga, and recently won a second contract through the Hutt Valley District Health Board to provide services in the Wellington region and the lower and central North Island. In August the service won a 2003 Aotearoa/New Zealand Mental Health Award.

There are 28,000 people in New Zealand who use New Zealand Sign Language for effective daily communication and participation in society. It is expected that official recognition will improve acknowledgement of New Zealand Sign Language as a real language and decrease injustices experienced by Deaf people. The immediate effect of the Bill, once it is passed into law, will be to provide people with the right to use New Zealand Sign Language in any legal proceedings, including in court.

The Bill will also mean that the Deaf community will hopefully have better access to mental health information. There is information and brochures available in Maori, English and Pacific Island languages, but not in minimal Deaf language or sign language video format.

About Richmond Fellowship and Framework Trust

Richmond Fellowship is a major provider of community health and support services throughout New Zealand. The Fellowship has developed specialist services for a range of purchasers including the Ministry of Health, Crown Public Health and District Health Boards. Services include support programmes for people with mental, psychiatric or psychological illness, respite and emergency support, consumer based drop-in services, specialist youth services and dual diagnosis services (including intellectual disability/mental illness).

Framework Trust is an Auckland community-based charitable trust supporting people with mental illness. Services include community support, residential support, employment and a joint venture intensive support programme.

1 The capitalised "D" in 'Deaf' is used internationally to denote a distinct linguistic and cultural group of people who are deaf, use sign language as their first or preferred language and who identify with the Deaf community and Deaf culture. Levels of deafness vary widely among Deaf people, though most have a profound or severe pre-lingual hearing loss.


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