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Urgency to consider mental health ramping up


September 29th 2008

Urgency to consider mental health services ramping up, says AUT Prof

The shape and future of New Zealand’s voluntary and community-based services in mental health will come under the spotlight on October 8th, at a public event being held to mark World Mental Health Day and Mental Health Awareness Week.

The urgency to consider these services is ramping up, with the release of a national paper* only weeks ago calling for a rethink in our mental health approach and a looming workforce crisis, says AUT Pro Vice-Chancellor Max Abbott.

Awareness of the widespread social and economic repercussions of mental illness is also low, despite almost half of all New Zealanders experiencing a mental illness and/or addiction at some time in their lives.

At the same time mental health is also quickly becoming a global health priority, says Prof Abbott, as health authorities around the world increasingly weigh up impact of more than 450 million people suffering from related illnesses and their effects on lost workdays, disrupted families and medical costs.

“According to the World Health Organization, by the year 2020, depression will be second only to cardiovascular disease in contributing to the global burden of disease,” says Prof Abbott.

“Today more than ever we are facing problems on a global scale - human rights violations, climate change, war, poverty, violence against women and children – and our increasingly overstressed societies are just as big an issue.

“Here in New Zealand the full repercussions of mental disorder in our society are still not acknowledged. It continues to carry an unnecessary stigma. We do not yet have a preventative health promotion workforce the way heart disease and diabetes do with nutrition and physical activity health promotion. Access to mental health practitioners remains thin in primary care,” he says.

“Change has been happening in the sector towards whanau and community-based services, but it is widely recognised that this needs to be further explored.”

AUT’s event will focus particularly on the current and future contribution of the voluntary or non-government organisations (NGOs) in the sector, he says.

“We’ll be focusing on those services that people often take for granted out there,” says Prof Abbott. “How are they going, and how can we innovate and do things differently. And as NGOs or community groups increasingly take over as service providers – who’s the watchdog of these – who checks and balances? Are these good services – or are they just ways to be cheaper?”

The speakers at the event are:

• Prof Max Abbott: ‘World Mental Health Day’
• John Raeburn, Adjunct Professor: ‘Mental Health Promotion: A Silver Bullet for the 21st Century World’
• Judi Clements, CE Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand: ‘The importance of NGOs in Mental Health Advocacy’
• Mary O’Hagan, past mental health services user, and former Mental Health Commissioner: ‘What recovery means’.

Prof Abbott is Dean of AUT’s Faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences and Professor of Psychology and Public Health. He is also past president of the World Federation for Mental Health and currently a Board member and Chair of Waitemata District Health Board's Hospital Advisory Committee.

Prof Abbott was the president of the World Federation for Mental Health when World Mental Health Day was first launched in 1992. Today the event is celebrated by 100 countries and this year’s theme calls for mental health to be made a global priority and for citizens to advocate for services to be upscaled. Mental Health Awareness Week in New Zealand is run by the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand, and this year encourages New Zealanders to step up and ‘make your mark for mental health’, in order to try to make mental health a future priority here.

Prof Abbot says AUT’s own mark will be through a wide range of ongoing research programmes in the area, as well as providing skilled graduates to fill the increasing demand for services.

“There is currently a dire shortage of highly-skilled people in the area and we’re tailoring a wide range of courses and programmes to the changing future direction of the sector,” he says.

“We have recently introduced new graduate programmes in counseling psychology and the addictions. We are also increasing student numbers across the spectrum of mental health programmes.”

Media are welcome to attend AUT’s event, being held Weds Oct 8th, 5pm-7.30pm, at AUT’s Conference Centre, Main Entrance, Level 2, Block A, City Campus, Wellesley St, Auckland.


Note *: The Mental Health Advocacy Coalition released a discussion document entitled Destination: Recovery, Te Unga ki Uta: Te Oranga on September 5th, see for more.

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