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Step up and work together on significant new approaches



Mental Health Foundation to politicians: “step up and work together on significant new approaches to mental health”

With the 2017 election drawing closer, the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) is today calling for all political parties to publicly commit to working together to provide leadership and a clear national plan for a renewed approach to mental health and wellbeing in Aotearoa New Zealand.

“Our country’s response to mental health and wellbeing is under significant pressure. We are not acting on evidence about how to build resilience and prevent mental health problems, and this is undermining the advances of the last decades,” MHF chief executive Shaun Robinson says.

“We are past the stage where small changes will make a difference,” Mr Robinson says. “A substantial rethink is required with a cross party commitment to a plan of action that takes a four-pronged approach:

1. reducing the social drivers of mental health problems,

2. building wellbeing and resilience,

3. increasing efforts to reduce stigma and discrimination,

4. making significant changes to the model of services provided.

“It is critically important that we address all four elements together,” Mr Robinson says. “Just addressing the symptoms of mental health problems through traditional service provision will not create lasting change.”

“We must look at the causes of mental health problems and build the positive wellbeing and resilience of every New Zealander.”

The Foundation believes a cross-sector, intergovernmental response is needed, and is calling for all political parties to commit to an increased effort to address social drivers of mental health problems such as:

• physical and psychological abuse – particularly towards women and children

• child poverty

• lack of adequate housing

In addition, New Zealand needs to take up opportunities to invest in evidence-based programmes that increase wellbeing and resilience.

“We all go through difficult times in our lives,” Mr Robinson says. “There are things we can all do to build up our wellbeing and resilience so that when hard times arrive we have the skills, support and tools we need to get through. These skills should be taught in every school and workplace in New Zealand and promoted widely within communities.”

The 20 year Like Minds, Like Mine campaign and the work of people like Sir John Kirwan through the National Depression Initiative have helped to open people up to talking about mental health. However, shame and the fear of what others will say and do still form major barriers to people seeking support, being able to participate in work, and to them managing or recovering from mental illness. With half of all adults experiencing a diagnosable mental illness in their lifetime, we must significantly increase work to eliminate stigma, and to fully accept and include people going through distress.

"While the majority of people who receive support from New Zealand mental health services are satisfied with their care, one in five are dissatisfied and a significant number of people don’t receive appropriate care,” Mr Robinson says. “Demand for mental health services has increased by 70% in the last decade and funding has not kept pace."

There are many signs of a system under pressure. These include a suicide rate that is not decreasing and inadequate crisis responses, contributing to a 31% increase in police callouts to suicide attempts over four years. Under these pressures many services report high staff turnover.

“New Zealand continues to use outdated and unacceptable practices such as seclusion in its mental health services and Māori are 3.6 times more likely to face compulsory treatment than non-Māori,” Mr Robinson says. “This urgently needs to change.”

The Foundation is also deeply concerned about the inadequate provision of mental health services in prison.

The Mental Health Foundation has begun a process of meeting with members of all major political parties to try to secure a cross-party commitment to working together on a significant new plan for mental health.

"Leadership and a clear national plan for rapid improvement are required,” Mr Robinson says.

Looking after mental health and wellbeing is important for every person in Aotearoa New Zealand. There are major challenges and exciting opportunities to make things better for all Kiwis.

“Using mental health as a political football helps no one. Our politicians need to put party politics aside for the good of the people and work together to act on a plan for major change,” Mr Robinson says.

The MHF suggests that a Health Select Committee process would be a good place to start.

“The parliamentary Health Select Committee process provides a mechanism for politicians to come together with community input to work on the mental health and wellbeing of all New Zealanders. We will be encouraging parties to commit to this approach.”

The MHF has been encouraged by recent developments in Scotland, where the new Mental Health Minister has just unveiled a strategy to tackle mental health.

“The Scottish government has acknowledged the big issues driving poor mental health outcomes,” Mr Robinson says. “They’re tackling poverty as one of the biggest contributors to poor mental health. Scotland’s new strategy is comprehensive and well-funded; New Zealand should learn from this.”

“New Zealand has many advantages as a country,” Mr Robinson says, “Now is the time for politicians to come together and commit to a plan so all New Zealanders experience positive mental health in all parts of their lives.”


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