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New approach to mental health needed, says Foundation

New Zealand needs a new approach to mental health, Mental Health Foundation tells conference

Public Health Association media release, 8 September 2015

By international standards New Zealanders enjoy a high quality of life, yet we have some of the highest rates of depression in the western world, low levels of wellbeing when compared with European countries, and ongoing high rates of common mental illnesses related to depression and anxiety. This is despite improved mental health service provision in recent years, and greater awareness around stigma and discrimination relating to mental health problems.

New Zealand needs a new approach to mental health that focuses on the wellbeing of the whole population rather than continue our negative and narrow focus on mental health as a growing liability. When that happens we will all be more likely to flourish psychologically, according to a presentation at the Public Health Association conference today in Dunedin.

The time is right to transform the way we understand mental health in our communities says Judi Clements, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation.

“One way to explain the above paradox is the competing mental health drivers currently at play. While our social and material progress has a positive effect on our mental health, the postmodern challenges of shifting socio-economic relationships, lack of sleep, financial uncertainty, lack of exercise, social disconnectedness, perceived unrealistic demands and increasing work responsibilities may be hindering our wellbeing.

“It’s a bit like driving a car with a foot on both the brake and the accelerator at the same time.”

Clements says that to maximise the processes that increase mental wellbeing we need to transform our approach as a society: towards mental health 2.0. Instead of only focusing on treatment paradigms mediated between individual patients and professionals we need a population-wide approach that focuses on communities and workplaces to make improving the mental wellbeing of all New Zealanders the goal.

“We tend to view mental health negatively – i.e. ‘that person has mental health issues’, rather than as a positive resource to be protected and built. Research has established that good mental health is not just the absence of mental illness.

“It also suggests positive mental health in the general population (resilience, emotional literacy and awareness) may be an effective ways to reduce common mental illness in individuals. In short, good mental health can be contagious.”

Clements said there are many things we can do on a social and policy level to increase overall wellbeing and reduce threats to mental health.

“Evidence suggests these include ensuring children get a good start in life, supporting strong communities with good levels of self-determination, reducing physical and psychological violence, promoting tolerance for diverse world-views, better education on how thinking can affect mental health, improving awareness around the health and social damage caused by stress and removing the stigma and shame associated with experiencing a mental health problem.”

She said the Mental Health Foundation is taking the lead in Mental Health 2.0 by advocating for policy change in mental health and wellbeing; supporting equitable health outcomes for Maori; organising programmes that promote healthy thinking and wellbeing; and working with other groups to increase its range of influence.


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