Peter Williams: What's causing our mental health epidemic?

Opinion 31/05/2019

By Peter Williams, Magic Mornings host.

So, the high profile spend in the budget was on mental health services. But why do we have such a need for such a huge spend? Why do we have what has been called a mental health epidemic which requires such a massive injection of money, and a massive investment in the training and recruitment of the appropriate staff?

The numbers are quite extraordinary.

In 2014, there were 21,545 callouts to Police for mental health matters and threatened or attempted suicide. The way these numbers are collated is that Police are called to an incident, and then when the paperwork is done later, it is assessed by Police as a mental health matter.

In 2018, that same number was 55,074 Think about that. In 5 years the number of Police callouts to incidents assessed by police as mental health has more than doubled.

Up till the end of March this year, the number was 14,913. That means we’re on track for nearly 60,000 mental health issues determined by Police callouts and suicide threats or attempts this year. Why is that?

Why has there been such a huge explosion in the number of mental health callouts?

I’ll confess. I haven’t got a clue, but I would hope that quite a lot of that two billion dollars is going into finding out why more and more people suffer anxiety, depression and start entertaining suicidal thoughts.

I note that included in that money is some set aside for what is called resilience building. And I think that is a great idea. That is what you call care at the top of the cliff and not the ambulance at the bottom.

I did a quick look this morning to see what sort of things we can do to build resilience and here’s a quick recommended list of eight ideas.

  • Know what you can control.

  • Make connections with family and friends.

  • Be in the moment.

  • Embrace failure.

  • Accept change.

  • Be grateful.

  • Look after yourself.

  • Be optimistic.

There are other lists around of ways to build resilience. Ideas and concepts such as finding a sense of purpose in your life and building positive beliefs in your abilities are there. It all makes sense.

We should teach those concepts from a very young age.

But will we have the teachers to do it? Will we be able to find the necessary workers in the mental health industry? It looks like we’ll have to recruit many of them from overseas. Let’s hope those immigration quotas don’t get cut (Winston).

But I have a feeling, without any evidence at all, that there are two major contributing reasons to the increase in demand for mental health services: drugs and social media.

We know about the growing scourge of meth, we know how many people smoke dope, and there is precious little evidence that the number is dropping.

And if we are going to legalise cannabis next year, somehow I don’t see the number of people needing mental health services dropping off.

That’s worth thinking about before voting in the referendum next year.

The internet and mobile phones are part and parcel of our lives these days, so we can’t stop people getting using them, but somehow we have to teach kids especially, how to use them safely and stop abusing, trolling and bullying others.

So let’s appreciate that we have a serious mental health issue in this country.

Ley's be grateful that we have the financial resources which allow the Government to dedicate so much money to it.

But as well as treating it, I reckon it’s far more important to find out what’s causing it.

Peter Williams is host of Magic Talk Mornings, 9am - midday weekdays.

Where to find help and support:

  • Need to Talk? - Call or text 1737

  • Lifeline - 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland

  • Youthline - 0800 376 633, text 234, email talk@youthline.co.nz or online chat

  • Samaritans - 0800 726 666

  • Depression Helpline - 0800 111 757

  • Suicide Crisis Helpline - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)