6 Apr 2021

Waikato mental health campaigner's long wait to meet minister over concerns

5:34 pm on 6 April 2021

A Waikato mental health campaigner wants to know why the Minister of Health will not meet with suicide-bereaved families in Waikato.

Jane Steven's gave evidence on the opening day of an inquest into her son's death in March 2015.

Jane Stevens giving evidence on the opening day of an inquest into her son's death in March 2015. Photo: RNZ

Jane Stevens has been waiting over a year to get a meeting with the minister to discuss mental health services.

Her son Nicky took his own life while in the care of the Waikato DHB in 2015.

Stevens first wrote on behalf of a group of bereaved families to the then minister David Clark in February last year.

He agreed to meet, but lost his job soon after.

Stevens said she finally heard back from new Health Minister Andrew Little's office in March this year, in what she called a "fob-off letter" written by officials, which did not even mention her request to meet.

She said a meeting was urgent.

"We still have appalling suicide rates. People are not getting access to the support they need. We cannot keep waiting, and waiting, and waiting. We want to see some action and the minister has to start talking to the people at the flax roots," Stevens said.

"We are all whānau who have lost loved ones within that mental health system and it is still happening."

The families had written that they were concerned about the failure of Waikato DHB mental health services to provide safe and high quality care in community and inpatient settings.

"What we want most of all is to see change and to be able to be part of that change. It was certainly something the prime minister herself said to us on the steps of Parliament in 2017, 'you will be heard'."

Stevens said it felt like they were being totally ignored.

"I just want to get into a room with the minister so that he can actually talk directly to our families and to hear our voice, and to actually start talking about what needs to happen to involve families.

"We are appalled by the growing number of whānau in the same position as us, nothing has really changed since the new government promised transformation of the mental health system."

The group were also concerned about the DHB's own mental health review, which was due to be released in December last year but still has not been.

Stevens said they were not happy with the DHB doing its own review or even using outside reviewers.

"I know from form own experience with our son's death that so-called external reviewers are chosen by the DHB itself, are often psychiatrists' peers and colleagues and are far from independent."

Waikato DHB said the review of its mental health and addiction services would be released on Friday, 9 April.

RNZ approached Health Minister Andrew Little's office about whether he would meet with the group.

Little, who became minister in November last year, told RNZ: "My intention is to meet with Jane Stevens. I understand officials are already in the process of coordinating this meeting".

Where to get help:

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357

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) or text 4202

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 (3pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 helpline (12pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-11pm 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

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