Chlöe Swarbrick: Responding to New Zealand's mental ill health

Opinion 21/02/2019
Chlöe Swarbrick. Photo: Supplied.

By Chlöe Swarbrick, Green Party spokesperson for Mental Health.

OPINION: We should not accept an inevitability of exploding mental ill health in New Zealand. It’s not par for course, and we’re beginning to develop the tools and insight to tackle this profound contemporary challenge.

A few months back, the Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry reported findings. Importantly, the terms of reference investigated whywe’re seeing an epidemic of mental ill health, moving away from our historical tendency to stigmatise and isolate mental health to the individual.  

In a nutshell, our question has evolved from ‘what’s wrong with people’ to ‘what’s happened to people?’

Echoing growing masses of modern research, the Inquiry identified that major drivers of our mental health crisis are systemic in our modern lives. Whilst individual people may have underlying biological susceptibility towards mental ill health, their environment can mitigate or aggravate it. Anybody can become depressed, anxious, or experience unsustainable mental distress in circumstances of trauma, isolation and extreme inequality.

Unfortunately, modern life doesn’t just reinforce these things - it breeds them. People are working more hours for less, with increasingly precarious job security and lower prospects for finding safe and secure housing.

We need to address these root causes, and with the Greens in Government, we’re overhauling the measure of ‘success’ in our country to apply scrutiny and action to exactly that. The traditional measure of ‘success’, GDP (gross domestic product), doesn’t mean anything to the average person struggling to get by.

But in the meantime, we need to make sure the people who need help are able to get it when they need it.

Last week, Minister of Health David Clark, Associate Minister of Health Julie Anne Genter and myself announced Piki, the long-anticipated Youth Mental Health pilot, in Porirua.

It’s a fundamental building block towards reaching the Confidence and Supply commitment - which was negotiated between the Greens and Labour to help form this Government - to provide free, accessible mental health services for all New Zealanders under 25 years old.

It’s the first time young New Zealanders have been guaranteed barrier-free access to fit-for-purpose mental health services, and it represents another crucial step towards prioritising wellbeing. The Greens are working hard with our Government partners to see this pilot expanded.

Chlöe Swarbrick is the Green Party's spokesperson for Mental Health.