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Community Trust 20th Anniversary Celebration

29th April 2006 Speech

Sarona Community Trust 20th Anniversary Celebration

We owe a great debt to everyone involved in caring for our mentally ill. When we think about the way our community looks after mental illness, we ask a lot from carers and we recognise their work poorly.

During Schizophrenia Awareness Week this year I launched a study of carers in mental health. It showed there are heavy costs involved in caring. The heaviest costs of course fall on the ill. Many costs fall on families. And when there is a need for an alternative it usually falls on a facility like this one. So I want to start out by acknowledging the contribution this centre has made over its two decades of caring. We cannot treat or manage mental health except by caring - in the wider sense of the word. And we enrich our community by caring for one another as well as we can.

The work of this centre was recognised in 1998 when it was presented with a Richmond Fellowship award for excellence in mental health. The award was presented by the then governor-general, Sir Michael Hardie Boys. It symbolises the value our community places on the importance of caring and healing in a compassionate way.

It's politically unfashionable these days to say we should make New Zealand a softer and more caring place. But I've never been one for political fashions.
We can be a more caring and more supportive community. We are born as social, caring humans beings. And our concern for the well being of our neighbours and our families is a measure of our civilisation.

We have a way to go in improving tolerance and acceptance of mental health in our communities around New Zealand. One chief finding in the research about caring for mental health patients was that alienation, isolation and stigma are commonplace. The word 'stigma' comes from the Greek word for 'Tattoo'. The idea of branding someone is an interesting image for the way our community deals with mental health. And I can give you examples of attitudes from right here in Christchurch:

A few years ago I was asked as a local MP to be on a panel set up by Social Welfare. It was looking for a site for a half way house. It wasn't for a mental health half-way facility, but for former criminal offenders. But the exercise revealed some of the issues of stigmatisation. To begin with, many in the community falsely equated mental health and criminal offending. And many didn't want anything to do with a halfway house in their area. Where there were existing halfway houses, it was common for neighbours to declare they had done enough - not because of their experiences but because of their fears.

Rather than accepting care as part of our responsibilities as a community, far too many sought ways to avoid it. But along with our rights and privileges as citizens we have responsibilities. It is easy to whip up fear, but it is never wise nor responsible. This centre has been an excellent example in reversing those attitudes. It has been a beacon of tolerance and a good neighbour. I know this facility has adopted a Christian approach to treatment. The community messages of Christianity are also relevant to how the community supports those in need of our compassion and support. From the Good Samaritan accepting he could help his fellow man to Christ's messages of tolerance and love for one another.

It is no accident that every major religion shares these teachings: They are the fundamentals of civilised humanity. We can only overcome attitudes of intolerance by challenging and overcoming the fear and ignorance that underlies it.

So we need to destigmatise mental health by being open and caring about mental health issues. Mental illness has traditionally been hidden. People were embarrassed to talk about it. Yet mental illness is prevalent in our community. Virtually every New Zealand family will be touched in some way by some form of mental illlness at some point in their lives.

Since we can all be affected we all have a role to play in caring and contributing. To those who play their part day to day, in centres like this we owe our acknowledgement. There are the rewards of being part of the lives of residents, making a difference and doing good. And often there are few thanks or rewards; the job is done for love.

I value the contribution of everyone in the mental health care community - from families, to professionals to the institutions who provide support. And I congratulate Reiner and Margaret Kuprecht on this twentieth anniverary.

I acknowledge the valuable work the Sarona Centre has done.

If we think back to when this centre first opened - David Lange was Prime Minister. Ronald Reagan was in the White House and holding super power summits with Mikhail Gorbachev. And the All Blacks hadn't even won the first world cup. (Boy that was a long time ago). It's been a long time over which this centre has made a contribution to our community and this celebration is very welcome. And I wish you all the best for continuing to provide care in the future.

ENDS

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