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Supporting mental health consumers into employment

Hon Steve Maharey
Minister of Social Services and Employment
Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education)
Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector
MP for Palmerston North

Supporting mental health
consumers into employment

An address to the Wellink Trust Employment Expo.
St John's Conference Centre, Wellington, 14 April 2000.

Check against delivery.

Thank you for the opportunity to meet with you – I am delighted to lend my support to this initiative.

The first point I want to make is that we all of us have to own the issue of mental health or wellness, and mental illness

We have to acknowledge that mental illness is a much more widespread form of illness than has generally been accepted.

We have to work to de-stigmatise mental illness – I am encouraged by the fact that many New Zealanders from all works of life have been prepared to say, "yes, I have suffered from a mental illness at some point, it is not a matter of personal shame, it may not be something that I would have chosen to have experienced, and a degree of openness and understanding is an absolute requirement if individuals are to recover from mental illness and fully participate in society".

I applaud those who have been willing to lend their names and their personal experiences to a process of de-stigmatising mental illness, opening up the debate, and hopefully opening up opportunities for mental health consumers to return to a state of wellness and full participation in work, family and society

I want to talk briefly today about the importance of supporting mental health consumers back into employment, and I want to outline some of the initiatives that I am and my Cabinet colleagues intend taking.

Let me comment on the importance of work. The American humorist Jerome Klapka Jerome said:

"I like work: it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours. I love to keep it by me: the idea of getting rid of it nearly breaks my heart"

I guess we have all felt that way about work at times.

But seriously work is fundamentally important. While I don't subscribe to the view that one's worth is one's work (or vice versa), work is a fundamentally important social and economic activity.

 Paid work is a source of money – and like it or not, an income provides options and choices
 But work is a source of friendships
 It’s a way to be productive and active
 It’s a source of self sufficiency
 And it’s a way to freely participate in society

Mental health consumers have the same aspirations as others in society –

 they want paid employment in a normalised setting
 But more than that, the development of employment skills and opportunities can play a central role in the return to wellness
 It can lead to increased quality of life and increased self-esteem
 It can lead it an increased sense of empowerment

I am aware of the fact that there are a number of different models that have been tried – they key issue I believe, as the Mental Health Commission noted in their excellent discussion paper, "Employment and Mental Health", is one of ensuring that policies work in a complementary and reinforcing fashion, that mental health, labour market, employment and income support policies work together.

Our objective must be to develop an integrated public policy that provides medical, rehabilitative, vocational, social and financial supports; motivation and encouragement to seek work, and access to jobs

As the Mental Health Commission noted, we won't be able to realise this objective unless all the stakeholders work in concert

 The mental health sector
 The employment sector
 Employers, and employee organisations

We need to realise that meeting the objective will require a menu of options – we are all different, consumers have different needs – one size won't fit everyone.

What's the Government doing?

The Government has established an Ad Hoc Cabinet Committee on Mental Health with the Terms of Reference 'To consider and oversee the development and implementation of a comprehensive mental health strategy'.

The officials committee that has been established to support the Cabinet Committee has developed some brief objectives that summarise the overall objectives of the work that is underway and the purpose of the Cabinet Committee.

These include:

 the removal of barriers to people with mental illness participating fully in the community by coordinating policies and practices affecting them across all sectors.
 ensuring that Government policies and practices in the education, employment, housing, income support, social services and justice sectors positively contribute to the recovery of people with mental illness.
 ensuring that all relevant services are delivered in a way that contributes to removing discrimination against people with mental illness.
 reducing disparities between groups in the community and bridging the gaps in the provision of services for Maori and Pacific people.

Let me make the point again - the key in all the above is the importance of co-ordination of policies in relation to people with mental illness.

The exercise above has employment as one of its key work streams and will emphasise the implications of employment issues and policies for people with mental illness. The Government is also currently developing an Employment Strategy. One of the key areas relates to people with disabilities and the importance of increasing their participation in employment. This includes people with mental illness.

In August 1999 there was a National Employment Forum 'Real Jobs for Real Pay' that focused on identifying opportunities and obstacles facing people who experience mental illness.

The key messages that emerged from the forum were:

'We want real jobs for real pay
We want support to get real jobs for real pay
Services and agencies need to give us respect and include us
Employers and service providers must understand our issues
Government agencies and mental health services must work together'

Those are the messages that will inform our decision-making, and they are the messages that require us to work together to develop the pathways to wellness.

Helen Walch has provided me with the initial results of a survey of the employment needs of mental health consumers – the results make very interesting reading. When asked to identify their preferences regarding employment the single most popular response was, "a job in an ordinary workplace."

That isn't too much to ask – and I am committed to doing all that I can to make that a reality for mental health consumers.

I applaud the work of the Wellink Trust, and I thank you for the opportunity to meet briefly with you today.


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