Jacinda Ardern: Mental health and addiction support at your local GP

Opinion 16/09/2019
Jacinda Ardern at Doctors Dawson Source: Supplied

By Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister, Labour MP for Mount Albert.

It is almost six months ago to the day that I visited a doctor’s clinic in South Auckland where the team had started up an in-house mental health service. I met a woman that day who talked about her strong relationship with her GP, a person she trusted, and who knew her particularly well.

She told me that her GP had often referred her on to external mental health services to support her with her depression, but that she’d never had the confidence or the inclination to follow up, instead deciding to struggle through.

When her local practice brought mental health services in-house that changed everything. Her GP was able to literally take her by the hand and introduce her to a wellbeing consultant then and there. She told me this simple change, being able to see someone in a place she knew, introduced by a person she trusted, changed her life.

So this month, when I spoke to the team at Local Doctors Dawson in Flat Bush, I was enormously proud to announce the beginning of our rollout of primary mental health provision across the country. We’re starting by funding mental health and addiction support for 22 GPs that will ensure 170,000 New Zealanders get local support.

Our plan is a monumental lift in mental health support.

It will take time to rollout in every community, but it is the beginning of the transformation of primary mental health care in New Zealand.

We know that for too long underinvestment in health meant that the services we did have were overwhelmed. It meant people in distress had to reach breaking point before support was available. After nine years of neglect, it will take time to build the workforce and the new services we need, but we’re getting on with the job.

Our free frontline mental health and addiction service, which we are rolling out in every community over the next five years, will support the ‘missing middle’ -  those people who haven’t yet reached crisis point, but who want help with their mental health or addiction.

The team at Doctors Dawson Source: Supplied

Mental health advocate Mike King had a nice analogy this week when we marked another important milestone – the release of the Government’s suicide prevention strategy. Describing the way we have relied too heavily on our mental health crisis teams (CATT teams) within our DHBs Mike said: For too long we have been using Formula One mechanics, when what’s needed could be as simple as an oil change. 

Our plan to put mental health and addiction support services in GPs and kaupapa Māori providers will give people immediate support while also freeing up our expert crisis teams to do the urgent work they need to do.

We know there’s huge need out there for mental health support – that’s why we made investing in mental health such a priority. Unmet need for mental health and addiction is a long-term challenge, getting things back on track around the country is going to take time, but we’ve taken action and we’re making progress.

If you need help or support you can free call or text 1737 24 hours a day. You’ll get to talk to (or text with) a trained counsellor. The service is completely free.

Jacinda Ardern is Prime Minister and Labour MP for Mount Albert.