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ANZASW on World Mental Health Day

The Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW) wishes to express its solidarity with service users and colleagues internationally this World Mental Health Day.

Today we celebrate the efforts of social workers across the globe who support those experiencing poor mental health, often in difficult environments and with limited resources. We are particularly thinking of colleagues working in conflict-hit locations such as South Sudan, Yemen and Syria, struggling to support the traumatised and grieving, including many children.

The Association is distressed to learn that in our own region, children who were receiving vital mental health support from Doctors Without Borders in immigration detention facilities in Nauru can no longer do so, after the Nauruan government issued an instruction to the charity to cease its psychological and psychiatric operations.

We call on the governments of Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia and our Pacific allies to appeal to Nauru to reconsider this move, which will have enormous consequences for families detained on the island in conditions that are already severely damaging to their well-being. Nauruan residents will also be badly affected by this decision.

The World Health Organisation theme for this year is “young people and mental health in a changing world.” The Association believes that this is an important focus. In Aotearoa New Zealand, we have some of the highest rates of youth suicide in the developed world, especially for those from the lowest socio-economic backgrounds.

As we have previously stated, the link between poor mental health, discrimination and deprivation is well-established and should be factored into strategies to reduce the rates of mental health crises in our country. As social workers, we bear witness to the struggles of clients who live with these realities on a daily basis. Access to all health and social services and other societal factors which drive inequalities must be addressed to improve mental health at a population level.

We are pleased that the government has made improving younger persons’ mental health a goal; we commend Wellington for, among other moves, its efforts to provide free counselling to 18-25 year olds, and look forward to further actions. ANZASW also awaits the publication of the inquiry into mental health and addictions services next month, which will indicate the direction of future policy.

The Association will be particularly interested in reading the report’s recommendations on the accessibility of services to minorities; the need for increased funding for alcohol and drugs addiction services; links between poverty and poor mental health; and the need for early intervention. These topics were included in the terms of reference for the inquiry.

The importance of early intervention in preventing acute crises was underscored in
a study produced by Auckland University of Technology last week, which found that more than half of disorders begin the teenage years, many of which can go untreated- with long-term consequences.

Lisa Glynn, an ANZASW member who specialises in supporting trained workforces to deliver evidence-based interventions, says “supporting parents and children who are experiencing challenges at an early stage produces better outcomes in youth, adolescence and beyond. Social workers always look at enhancing the long-term wellbeing of clients, their Whanau / families and the wider community.”

The model of intervention that social workers follow is collaborative and empowering, Glynn explains; practitioners act as a “bridge between the person with some needs and the wider environment that contains some supports.”

The scope of mental health social work in our communities is vast: practitioners are present in schools, universities, prisons, hospitals, NGOs, care homes and elsewhere. As the professional body for social work in Aotearoa, ANZASW hopes that the inquiry will address the funding shortfall for so many of the services in which our members work. Issues of short staffing, excessive workloads and underpayment for nurses as well as social workers continue to be problematic, and we hope that some of the strain on the system can be reduced in the near future so as to optimise outcomes for the public and to expand the workforce.

In order to reduce the level of mental distress that is occurring in our society, the Association hopes that both New Zealanders and the government will engage with and promote the “Five Ways to Wellbeing” model for maintaining or improving mental health. The five steps are recommended as the result of an in-depth piece of research by the New Economics Foundation and are endorsed by the Mental Health Foundation.

ANZASW hopes to see a strengthening of mental resilience and well-being across all parts of our society, accompanied by an end to the stigma that can still be associated with mental illness. We encourage all those concerned about their own condition or those around them to reach out so that they can receive the support they are entitled to.

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