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NZAC Praises Better Mental Health

One hundred counselling sessions for Kiwis in urgent need of support is a positive start to increasing the country’s overall mental health, the NZ Association of Counsellors (NZAC) said.

President, Christine Macfarlane, praised the National Party’s recently announced $179 million mental health strategy aimed at addressing New Zealand’s woeful mental health in a wide array of areas.

“We know New Zealanders are increasingly seeking help for their mental health and not receiving any financial aid for it, which can exacerbate their wellbeing issues,” she said.

“We also know that the COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated the issues people are grappling with, from increased suicidal thoughts, and anxiety, to relationship stresses, and addiction.

“So, removing those financial barriers and enabling greater access to free, competent counselling sessions – whether they be provided by qualified counsellors or other suitably qualified mental health professionals – is crucial.”

She also commended the integrated network of mental health services through a ‘national stepped care approach’ for commissioning and delivering services.

That would provide a working solution to the inefficient status quo which is very much dependant on regional and local relationships between District Health Boards (DHBs), primary health organisations and community services, she said.

“We’re not convinced whether or not a Minister for Mental Health would have any tangible difference to New Zealanders’ mental health.

“But we do acknowledge the value being placed on separate mental health from the rest of health as it will mean the issue isn’t treated with an inappropriate medical approach and would instead be handled with a more holistic one.”

She added that mental health was a low priority within the DHB system, and so it is vital to emphasise its importance across all governmental departments’ initiatives.

However, Macfarlane cautioned any policymaker entering into the next government against committing to a ‘Zero Suicides’ policy because it sends the wrong message.

“New Zealanders dealing with mental health and emotional wellness issues need targeted, trained and qualified support, not targets.

“Evidence indicates that we should be focussing on greater resourcing of frontline services, greater accessibility of these services, and earlier intervention.”

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