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Extended term for Mental Health Commission

8 October 2006

Extended term for Mental Health Commission

The Labour-led government will introduce legislation to extend the term of the Mental Health Commission to 2015, Health Minister Pete Hodgson announced today.

The Minister has also announced that former Ngai Tahu Development Corporation Chief Executive Ray Watson has been appointed as a new commissioner.

The Commission's term was to have expired next year but an amendment to legislation extending that deadline to 2015 will now be introduced by the government.

"The period since the Commission's establishment in 1996 has seen significant gains in the recognition and treatment of mental illness," Pete Hodgson said. "The mental health community should be proud of its record of tackling stigmatisation and expanding services for people with mental illness.

"The Mental Health Commission should be particularly proud of its role as a leader in these efforts. While there have been considerable improvements since the Commission was established, there is still more work to be done to support people who have experienced mental illness.

"Recent findings from the New Zealand Mental Health Survey have highlighted the need to target specific areas, for example Maori, Pacific and young people who have disproportionate levels of mental illness in our communities. The Mental Health Commission can play an important role in efforts to address this."

As part of the process, some of the Commission's functions will be revised to ensure it is well placed into the future to support New Zealanders who have experienced mental illness and the mental health sector.

The bid for an extension of the Commission's term comes after consultation with key stakeholders who expressed support for the organisation.

The Ministry of Health backed the move which would allow the Commission to continue to provide an independent voice for people with mental illness, their families and whanau, caregivers and support groups.

Ministry of Health Deputy Director General of Mental Health, Dr Janice Wilson, said it would also ensure that the mental health sector is supported throughout the implementation of the national mental health strategy, Te Tahuhu – Improving Mental Health 2005 – 2015 and Te Kokiri – the Mental Health and Addiction Action Plan 2006 – 2015.

In other changes, a new commissioner, Ray Watson, has been appointed. A former chief executive of Ngai Tahu Development Corporation and Lakeland Health, Mr Watson has an extensive clinical and management background in mental health services.

Currently a director on the Meridian Energy Board, Mr Watson has served as a member of the Mental Health Commission Advisory Board and the Otago District Health Board. He has iwi affiliations with Kai Tahu and Te Atiawa. He took up his new role with the Mental Health Commission in September.

The announcements come at the start of Mental Health Awareness Week. The theme this year is Happiness - Accept, Belong, Connect.

Commission Chairperson Ruth Harrison welcomed the changes.

"Building on the experience and successes of the last 10 years, we believe we can add value and leadership to the sector," Ruth Harrison said. "The Commission can help the country's mental health system to continue to move forward to be a world leader in providing a recovery-based mental health system that promotes wellness and allows people with mental illness to remain connected to their communities and lead full and rewarding lives.

"We also welcome the return of a Maori dimension to the Commission's board following Bob Henare's departure earlier this year – Ray brings a wealth of mental health service, governance and management experience to the Commission."

The Mental Health Commission was established in September 1996 in response to the recommendations of the Mason Inquiry into Mental Health Services the same year.

One of the Commission's achievements has been the development of its Blueprint for Mental Health Services, a plan which sets targets for resourcing and services for mental health consumers.

Despite some excellent programmes to eliminate discrimination, there are still public misconceptions about mental illness and addiction, Ms Harrison said.

"As the Commission moves forward we can work towards further developing a range of services that allow people with mental illness or addictions to feel that they are accepted by and are connected to their communities."

ENDS

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