Dr David Clark: Taking mental health and addiction seriously

Opinion 25/07/2019

By Dr David Clark, Minister of Health, Labour MP for Dunedin North.

One of the privileges of being Minister of Health is meeting people from all walks of life who want to share their experiences of our health service.

Many of them tell me of the great care they’ve had and of the skill, compassion and dedication of the staff that have looked after them. Others have stories of frustration and disappointment – and unfortunately that’s too often true when it comes to mental health and addiction.

We know we face a major challenge transforming our approach to these issues.

As a Government we are taking mental health seriously.

This year’s Budget included a record $1.9 billion dollar investment in mental health and addiction. A big chunk of that funding is going towards building a range of free frontline services for people with mild to moderate needs.

These services must be easy to access, easy to navigate and they must work for the people that need them. To make sure they do just that, we need to listen to those with lived experience and those who work in the sector.

While we’re doing that, we’re getting stuck in expanding on what works already.

We’ve put mental health support into all primary and intermediate schools in Canterbury and Kaikoura, and we’ve put more nurses in secondary schools nationwide.

The Piki pilot trialling free mental health services for 18-24 year olds in the greater Wellington region and the Wairarapa is up and running.

We’ve funded the construction of new drug and alcohol detoxification facilities in Auckland, and invested in new mental health facilities at Hillmorton in Christchurch. And we’ve made it cheaper for about 600,000 people to visit their doctor – which is often where people turn first when they are looking for mental health support.

This week we took important next steps building on these initiatives and on the investment in the Wellbeing Budget. We began a series of five workshops with mental health and addiction leaders around the country. We need their insight and input so that new services actually work in practice. We can’t assume that a service designed in Wellington will necessarily work in the Far North or rural Canterbury.

It will take time to roll-out these new services.

We need to train and upskill hundreds of mental health staff and peer support people – and we’ve planned and invested in that workforce development.

There’s much more to do, but for the first time in New Zealand’s history we have a proper plan to improve the way we tackle mental health and addiction. Hopefully that means future Ministers of Health will hear more stories of success from people living with mental health and addiction, and fewer stories of disappointment.

Dr David Clark is Minister of Health and Labour MP for Dunedin North.