28 Dec 2017

Health initiative combining physical, mental goes global

9:56 pm on 28 December 2017

A successful New Zealand initiative which encourages those working with the mentally ill to also consider their patient's physical well-being has been exported overseas.

File photo

File photo Photo: 123RF

Equally Well is a group of people and organisations with a common goal of reducing physical health disparities between people who experience mental health and addiction problems, and people who don't.

Launched in 2014, the initiative scooped two international awards last year and is now being rolled out in Australia and the United Kingdom.

Spokesperson Helen Lockett said the disparity was recognised worldwide, and tackling it required a collaborative approach and different solutions.

"We're actually saying 'because there are many, many parts of the jigsaw ... there are many people who can bring about change'.

"We've got now 100 organisations across New Zealand who've said 'we recognise there is disparity and we recognise we are in a role where we can do something about it'," she said.

Those organisations include doctors, nurses, district health boards and community groups.

"So you might see an example where somebody can go to their GP - In Canterbury we're seeing this - and have an extended consult not just to support their mental health but also to support their physical health."

That included more checks on things like heart disease and cancer screening.

Equally Well strategy had also had success with change at a policy level, which wouldn't have been possible a few years ago, she said.

"If you look at something like the NZ Diabetes Strategy, Living Well with Diabetes, that very clearly shows that people in contact with mental health and addiction services are at higher risk of diabetes and prioritises that population group for routine screening for diabetes.

Equally Well has a shared vision but works as a loose collaborative, communicating via online tools like Loomio and newsletters about good practice.

That may mean that someone who has used mental health services may end up talking to a GP or a psychiatrist about the issue on a neutral platform, how they could effect change, what the barriers might be, she said.

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