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Budget 2020 Presents Opportunities And Concerns

The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) welcomes today’s Budget, while feeling some concern that mental health is at a crossroads.

"Today’s budget could mean two things for mental health," MHF chief executive Shaun Robinson says.

“One: It could mean the progress New Zealand has made following the release of He Ara Oranga (the report of the Mental Health and Addictions Enquiry) could stall and be lost. We could take our eye off the mental health ball. Two: Aotearoa could benefit from the additional momentum we have gained in mental health over the lockdown period and grow from there.”

The MHF believes a reset and recovery from COVID-19 can benefit the mental health of New Zealanders by continuing to bring Kiwis together. The recovery period and Budget give us an opportunity to address the social determinants of mental health and suicide (including poverty, domestic violence and unemployment) and take this chance to push for a more equitable, fairer society. Māori are more likely than non-Māori to face these challenges, so targeted investment that prioritises Māori is essential to limiting any increase of existing inequities.

“We are pleased to see investments in reducing family violence, in Whānau Ora services and housing. We are pleased to see specific funding for Māori in key employment and social areas. This is investment in mental health,” Mr Robinson says.

“There is an opportunity now to keep building positive mental health, resilience and wellbeing together. Throughout lockdown we saw people doing incredible things that were good for our whānau, neighbours, communities and country – more kindness, more connection, more physical activity, and taking time to check in on each other’s mental health. People have been actively supported by Government to take action for our wellbeing, and it has worked. We need to hold onto this taonga we created together and find a way to grow it. Don’t stop now. ” Mr Robinson says.

“The Prime Minister is correct that meaningful jobs are key to wellbeing, and we are glad to see the Government recognising this,” Mr Robinson says.

“However, we must not lose sight of why jobs are key to wellbeing – it’s because of the financial security they provide and the meaning and purpose they give our lives,” Mr Robinson says. “The investment in job creation training and environmental projects is also investment in mental health.”

“While creating jobs and rebuilding the economy, the Government must ensure all New Zealanders have a liveable income and ways to meaningfully contribute to their community with dignity and respect, regardless of whether they have paid employment. This includes those New Zealanders who are unable to work.”

In the last year, the MHF has been pleased to see an expansion in the availability of mental health services and hopes this will continue. The momentum in early and innovative services must continue.

“COVID-19 forced rapid innovation in almost every sector – including mental health,” Mr Robinson says. “We’ve had to quickly learn how to make newer technologies such as telehealth, apps and video appointments work, and they have for many. We must continue to ensure innovations that work remain accessible.

“COVID-19 has created a huge amount of uncertainty and fear, and it is natural and understandable that many of us have been quite distressed," Mr Robinson says. “But we cannot stress enough that long-term wide-spread mental health impacts are not inevitable. How we all respond will determine the mental wellbeing of our communities.”

“We know a lot about how to sustain and restore mental health in the wake of a disaster,” Mr Robinson says. “Previous disasters have taught us there is no recovery without a strong focus on mental health. Mental wellbeing will be vital to economic recovery. Continuing to support mental health means continuing to support economic performance.”

The MHF reminds New Zealanders that we have an opportunity not just to recover but to reset, to create an economy and society that is fairer, that supports positive mental health and wellbeing, fosters community spirit and supports each of us when we go through times of distress.

The MHF remains concerned that the Budget is lacking in some key areas, including:

No resourcing or implementation plan for the recommendations of He Ara Oranga – without a plan we are concerned that progress will stall and drift.

No commitment as to whether new DHB funding will touch on the deficits currently experienced by mental health services, which are under more pressure than ever. Additionally, the MHF would like transparency in how this is addressed and monitored.

There continues to be a need for greater focus on peer support and lifting the voice of people with lived experience of mental distress and suicidal thoughts and feelings.

There is no specific new funding for services that work for Māori.

The details of any reprioritisation of spending that may affect mental health and suicide prevention. 

The MHF is optimistic about the opportunities ahead to build a kinder, fairer and more mentally healthy New Zealand, and will work with Government to make this a reality.

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