19 Apr 2017

Mental health 'grey zone' stopping people in need

9:57 pm on 19 April 2017

People with mental health problems are unable to get the help they need unless their health deteriorates to crisis point, a report has found.

28072016 Photo: Rebekah Parsons-King. Stock image illustrating loneliness, depression, isloation in men, for Insight.

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

The People's Mental Health Report, released today by community campaign group Action Station, has prompted renewed calls for an independent review of New Zealand's mental health system.

The report was based on the experiences of people using the system or working in it.

It included the stories of 500 people - more than 90 percent of them focused on problems or challenges they faced, and just 7 percent were about positive experiences.

Among the problems highlighted in the report were that people were being made to wait too long to access services and treatment, or they were being turned away because they were not unwell enough.

"In a number of stories, people expressed concern that they couldn't get the help they needed until their health had deteriorated to the point of crisis," the report said.

"As a result, people observed, resources that could be more constructively used for community-based early intervention are absorbed by expensive and, in too many cases, ineffective crisis management."

One person, who did not want to be named in the report, said there appeared to be a "grey zone" where people were not unwell enough to get help.

"Less than a month ago I experienced an anxiety attack that worsened and started taking me down, very suddenly and quickly. I don't qualify for the services because I'm not a physical risk to myself or others. Not yet. But maybe prolonged lack of services allows mental health to decline to the point I am considered dangerous enough to see someone," the person said.

"In the meantime, I struggle through in a grey zone of 'too healthy to get free services, but too sick and unemployed to afford private services'."

The report also said people felt they needed more treatment options.

They said there was an over-reliance on medication, partly due to a lack of resources for a wider range of treatments, including talking therapies and peer support.

Those concerns were also raised by an unnamed mental health service worker.

"Every week I get calls and emails from people desperately wanting help but wanting to try therapies or treatments that don't involve medication. They're told that by not accepting drug therapy they are 'not bad enough' to enter the mental health system. Many of these people end up in crisis further down the track," the worker said.

"If we could only offer funded choices in early intervention we wouldn't have to wait for crisis intervention. The irony is it would be a lot cheaper and less taking on overstretched inpatient beds and emergency services."

People who worked in mental health were under pressure as well, the report said.

"Both service users and mental health workers described an under-resourced, over-worked and stressed mental health workforce," it said.

'This has resulted in negative impacts on the health and wellbeing of people working within the system, as well as on the service they are able to provide to people seeking their support."

Independent review needed, report's authors say

The People's Mental Health Report called for an independent review of the mental health system. It also wanted an urgent funding increase.

It also called for the reinstatement of an independent oversight agency for the mental health system.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman has rejected calls for an inquiry.

"Overall the sector provides high quality mental health services for New Zealanders - from prevention, through to primary care and specialist services. But there's always more to do," he said in a statement.

"There's increased demand for all health services. To help meet this increase in demand, the government has increased mental health and addiction services funding from $1.1 billion in 2008/09 to over $1.4 billion for 2015/16."

Both Labour and the Greens have backed calls for an independent review.

Read the full People's Mental Health Report (PDF, 7.3MB)

Where to get help:

  • Lifeline: 0800 543 354
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.
  • Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7)
  • Sparx online e-therapy tool for young people
  • Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)
  • Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz
  • What's Up: online chat (7pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 children's helpline (1pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-10pm weekends)
  • Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)
  • Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254
  • Healthline: 0800 611 116
  • Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
  • OUTline 0800 688 5463 (OUTLINE) provides confidential telephone support on sexuality or gender identity

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

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