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The Mental Health Sector Cannot Do it Alone

Embargoed until 25 August 1999

The Mental Health Sector Cannot Do it Alone

Following closely on the heels of its review of progress in the mental health sector, the Mental Health Commission has released two discussion papers, one on the role of housing, the other on employment opportunities for people recovering from a mental illness.

Commission Chair Dr Barbara Disley said, "To improve the lives, and provide opportunities for people to recover from a mental illness, agencies outside the traditional boundaries of mental health will also need policies and programmes to assist people who are recovering from a mental illness.

"We need to be clear that many people affected by mental illness are successful in their jobs and don't have housing problems. Our papers focus on those that do need assistance.

"We have published these discussion papers to encourage further policy development in two vital areas that affect people with serious mental illness. Having a home and a job are important requirements for good mental health and frequently people with mental illness have limited options in respect of both. At present, people with a mental illness can have less satisfactory housing and employment than people without mental illness. While this has never been the intention, it is sometimes the end result," she said.

Employment
The employment paper says there is a wealth of research internationally which indicates that employment and mental health are linked, and that employment is an important contributor to recovery from mental illness. The paper says people with mental illness want to work, and being in work often reduces their use of mental health services.

"To date services to assist people to gain and maintain employment have not worked well for people affected by mental illness. Vocational services specifically for people with mental illness have frequently isolated people from mainstream employment opportunities. A wide variety of employment options is best, as different approaches work for different people. Greater attention must be paid to assisting people to continue with training and education which is often interrupted by a period of illness," said Barbara Disley

The Commission believes agencies responsible for mental health, labour market, employment and income support policies and services must work together. Different approaches are needed to provide a range of pathways to education, training and work. Policies need to provide choice and make to easy for people to move forward.

Housing
The housing paper concludes that over the last decade, more people have received financial assistance for housing, but there has been a reduced emphasis on tailored approaches for people with particular needs, such as people with mental illness or disability. There has been a move away from providing income-related interest rates, rentals, and accommodation benefits, to relying almost exclusively on the Accommodation Supplement.

"While there is evidence that only a small number of people with mental illnesses are homeless, many others live in accommodation that is substandard and short term. After periods of hospitalisation, some people find it difficult to re-establish a home or to find suitable alternative accommodation. People frequently stay longer in hospital than they need to because they cannot get appropriate accommodation. People with mental illness need a good place to live that is affordable and appropriate, and housing agencies must assist treatment and support agencies. We must build on existing initiatives and also encourage public and private sector partnerships," said Barbara Disley.

"Employment and housing problems for people with a mental illness are not pervasive or endemic in New Zealand but we need a strategy now, to avoid the pitfalls into which other countries have fallen," she said.

The Commission says both housing and employment require coordinated policy and service development. There must be recognition of the need to eliminate discrimination against people with mental illness. The Strengthening Families programme provides an example of how coordinated policy and service development can occur. The Commission would like to see a similar approach for housing and employment for people with mental illnesses.

ENDS

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