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Former mental health commissioner says NZ needs a ‘system change’

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

A public submission to the Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction outlines a completely new system to address the crisis in New Zealand’s mental health services so that no one who seeks help is turned away and everyone is offered more than medication.

PeerZone and ActionStation are inviting the public to sign an Open Submission to the Inquiry asking for open access to a comprehensive range of services. It will be presented to the Inquiry panel in early August.

The full submission is called The Wellbeing Manifesto for Aotearoa New Zealand and it starts where the People’s Mental Health Report left off, with wide-ranging and long-term recommendations.

The People’s Mental Health Report was a crowdfunded and crowdsourced story-based inquiry into the public mental health system in partnership with psychologist Kyle McDonald and comedian Mike King.

"The 500 stories that were summarised in the People’s Mental Health Report show that the system is routinely failing people", said Mary O’Hagan, director of PeerZone and a former Mental Health Commissioner. "Every week I hear stories of desperate people who can’t get into services.

"People who do get into services also get a bad deal. Some come out of crowded and coercive inpatient wards feeling worse than when they arrived. People are given a lot of pills but very little help to resolve their psychological, social, family and financial problems."

The Wellbeing Manifesto outlines a new system to address these persistent problems so that no one is turned away and everyone is offered more than medication.

"The first thing we need to do is stop habitually viewing mental distress and addiction as health problems that can only be fixed by medical interventions", said O’Hagan.

The Wellbeing Manifesto calls for all the sectors that have responsibility for wellbeing, distress and addiction - such as health, social development, justice, corrections and education - to jointly fund a full menu of services at the local level, in partnership with people affected by distress and addiction.

This menu includes personal and whānau support; income, work and housing support; talking therapies and treatments; spiritual healing; and crisis responses. The services need to be co-delivered and under as few roofs as possible, in such settings as primary health facilities, marae, community centres and large workplaces.

At the same time, the workforce needs to undergo a transformation so that cultural workers and peer workers (who have lived experience of distress and addiction), work alongside the traditional workforce with equal status and in equal numbers.

The Wellbeing Manifesto is part of an international groundswell for change in the way people think about and respond to mental distress and addiction.

"Our system cannot self-organise into a better one. It needs a circuit-breaking political solution and this government has said it is up for it," O’Hagan said.

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