Health Minister David Clark: Transforming mental health

Opinion 06/06/2019

By David Clark, Labour MP, Minister for Health.

For too long in New Zealand mental health was something we didn’t really talk about.

That’s changed slowly over the years, thanks in no small part to the likes of Sir John Kirwan and Mike King who have spoken so openly and honestly. What hasn’t changed much until now is the way we support people with mental health and addiction issues.

Last week the Government responded to the Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction, and used the Wellbeing Budget to start the process of fundamentally rethinking our approach to these issues.

We know too many people who could benefit from early support for distress have been missing out on assistance. That’s why we’re setting up a range of free frontline mental health and addiction services for people with mild to moderate needs.

We want to make it easy for anyone and everyone to reach out and find support.

That support will be available by picking up the phone and calling a helpline or seeking help through your GP, youth centre or iwi health service. You will even be able to access support online.

The aim is to make sure all New Zealanders have access to early help, so that small problems can be addressed before they become major worries.

It will take time to fully rollout this new service, in large part due to the need to train more mental health and peer support workers.

But we know this approach works and we have the plan to make it happen.

There are plenty of other mental health initiatives in the Budget as well, including funding for suicide prevention, $200 million for improving and expanding mental health and addiction facilities, and funding for 5,000 people with mild to moderate addiction problems to get support.

The Budget also tackled issues such as homelessness, domestic violence and child poverty – all of which play a major part in driving mental health and addiction issues.

But I also want to highlight a couple of the less costly measures we’re taking.

There’s strong evidence that building resilience at an early age can help lay the foundations for mental wellbeing later in life. So, starting later this year we are making resilience-building resources available to all primary and intermediate schools. We’re also investing in intensive parenting support for pregnant women and parents facing problems with drugs and alcohol.

These programmes won’t necessarily make the headlines, but early intervention will make a positive difference in people’s lives. That is what transforming our approach to mental health and addiction looks like.

David Clark is a Labour MP and Minister for Health.