Jacinda Ardern: Taking mental health seriously

Opinion 30/05/2019

By Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister, Labour Party Leader.

I was only 13 years old when my best friend’s brother took his own life.

In a small, tight-knit community like Murupara, a suicide causes a ripple effect.

My friend’s family’s unimaginable grief was echoed publicly, captured in the countless handwritten notes and messages from his classmates that hung around the walls at his funeral.

Behind every single suicide statistic is not only a life lost, but a community shattered.

I tell this story because I know so many of you have stories just like it. New Zealand has one of the highest suicide rates in the OECD, and nearly everyone has been affected by mental health issues in some way or another.

Many mental health challenges go unaddressed and unsupported, as our overloaded mental health system struggles to deal with anyone not immediately classified as in ‘crisis’. This has meant people reaching out for help can’t access the support they need.

We can do better, and we must.

In this year’s Wellbeing Budget, the Government is making the biggest investment in mental health in any Budget, ever.

We are committed to taking mental health seriously, and making sure no one reaching out for help gets turned away.

This investment will build entirely new services, targeted specifically at the mild to moderate mental health support that so many in the middle miss out on. It will train hundreds of new staff, and transform how we approach mental health and addiction. Over time, it will mean everyone who needs it can get free, immediate access to mental health support, in a way that works for them.

It is for all of us, and it will be a game changer.

Of course, there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all when it comes to mental health. That’s why we’ve made sure there are many different ways to access support.

Trained mental health workers will work alongside GPs, NGOs, kaupapa Māori, community organisations, universities and youth centres across New Zealand, making it easier for people to get help before distress reaches a crisis point. People will even be able to access support online.

There really is no wrong door to go through for help.

We see this investment as part of a bigger picture. In 2014, the economic cost of serious mental illness alone was $12 billion, or five per cent of GDP. This mental health investment is the right thing to do – and it also makes financial sense.

We also know that mental health and addiction issues often stem from other issues outside the health service, from housing, to employment, to poverty. That’s why we’re also committed to breaking the cycle of homelessness, getting more people into jobs, and halving child poverty within a decade.

Change doesn’t happen overnight – at least not the real, systemic change this Government is about.

We are committed to tackling those long-term issues.

We are committed to making sure everyone knows where and how to get the help they need, when they need it.

It is my hope that, with our hard work, we can save more and more families from experiencing the tragedy of losing someone they love, and make sure that every New Zealander has what they deserve - a sense of belonging, a sense of support, and a sense of hope.

Jacinda Ardern is Prime Minister and Leader of the Labour Party.