22 Sep 2021

Mental health 10-year plan to guide government decisions - Minister Little

2:28 pm on 22 September 2021

The government has announced a 10-year plan for improving mental health outcomes, and set up an external oversight group.

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Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

National says what is needed now is action, not more vision statements, working groups and nice words.

The plan, called Kia Manawanui, would set out short, medium and long-term actions to be taken by the government, Health Minister Andrew Little said as he announced the move this morning.

It was a response to the He Ara Oranga report into mental health and addiction services in New Zealand, and would focus on areas like technology, workforce and investment, he said.

He said it would include actions like:

  • Addressing the social, cultural, environmental and economic factors that can affect mental wellbeing
  • Strengthening the focus to promote mental wellbeing for all New Zealanders
  • Developing different ways to commission services to enable joined-up investment and to make it easier for providers to respond to complex needs
  • Facilitating access to digitally enabled support and building a digital ecoosystem of support across sectors
  • Developing the workforce needed to promote mental wellbeing and increase mental wellbeing literacy
  • Expanding the mental health addition and meental wellbeing workforce across all sectors

An explanatory video said it would be focused on a population-based approach, addressing mental wellbeing for all while addressing inequities.

The external oversight group would be chaired by AUT professor and Waitematā District Health Board chair and former journalist and equal opportunities commissioner Judy McGregor.

It would also include expertise from clinicians, governance entities and those with lived experience, Little said.

Little said in these Covid-affected times more people - and particularly younger people - were feeling more pressure on their mental wellbeing.

"The mental wellbeing of New Zealanders will be better supported through this programme as it requires government agencies to work together to promote and protect mental wellbeing."

He said the plan was the first of its kind and would target the cause of mental distress and set out how the government could achieve healthy futures

"It's not just a document or a strategy. It's a new approach and way of thinking that requires government agencies to work together to promote and protect mental wellbeing."

He said it would aim to allow everyone to protect and promote their own mental wellbeing at times, places and ways that worked for them.

"It might be at the local rugby club that has inforamtion about managing stress, or has links with the local pregnancy and parenting service that is working with local families to prevent addiction-related harm, or for those receiving income support they will know that help is available to help them manage the distress that financial instability can cause."

He said healthy futures could not be achieved if the health sector worked in isolation, and Kia Manawanui called for all sectors to work together to better support those who experienced mental distress.

"I know that our specialist services are under pressure partly driven by the increase in access to these services over many years - and we have work under way to build capacity within this part of the system - but, I emphasise, it does take time.

"I know the government's vision is ambitious, I know it will require a constant dedicated effort, but I know that Kia Manawanui alongside all the other great work we are doing togehter is going to make a big difference and will support and build in the progress we're already seeing."

Little said the government had in Budget 2019 spent $1.9 billion over four years to improve mental wellbeing, and in two years had rolled out free mental health and addiction services to 240 general practices that were now helping more than 11,000 people every month.

Some $1m had been spent on additional funding for Youthline, and 74 Māori and 18 Pacific suicide prevention initiatives had also been funded, he said.

"We've already made a massive investment through the first wellbeing budget. We've built new paths in the system that didn't exist before we've taken on new ideas, new approaches, and new ways of thinking."

You can watch the announcement here.

Another strategy, another working group, another investigation - National

In a statement, National Party mental health spokesperson Matt Doocey said nothing in the announcement would help people needing mental health support today.

"After four years in government, Labour has today released another strategy, set up another working group and announced another investigation," he said.

"Labour told New Zealanders at the 2017 election it had a plan to deal with the growing crisis. But by all accounts things have only become worse.

He said the rollout of inpatient mental health facilities was occurring at a glacial pace; promised frontline mental health service had been rolled out to fewer than 25 percent of GP practices; and after two years of free counselling for 18- to 25-year-olds it still was not available for young Kiwis outside of Wellington.

"If the government had delivered on its promises the services Kiwis need would be available," Doocey said.

"New Zealand is facing serious issues. Recently released research shows following last year's lockdowns attempted suicide in 10-14 year olds has increased by 125 percent. This significant increase shows why we need to have the mental health services in place to respond to this growing need."

He said what was needed now was action, not more vision statements, working groups and nice words.

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