By David Clark, Minister for Health, Labour MP Dunedin North.
“It’s okay to not be okay.”
That’s what former All Black Nehe Milner-Skudder said last week when talking about mental health, and his own struggles in recent years when injury has kept him on the side-lines instead of playing the game he loves.
It’s not the first time I’ve heard the phrase, but when Nehe said it at the opening of the Suicide Prevention Office, in front of a crowd that included people who have lost loved ones to suicide, it was powerful.
The opening of the Office was a significant occasion. It’s the first time New Zealand has ever had a dedicated Suicide Prevention Office, and I think everyone who was present felt that it was much needed.
We all know we face a massive challenge reducing our high rate of suicide. The Suicide Prevention Office will play a leadership role in coordinating action to reduce our rate of suicide, and it will monitor our progress in delivering on the New Zealand Suicide Prevent Strategy and Action Plan.
As a Government we’re making a record investment into mental health and addiction.
We’re rolling out new frontline services around the country so that people in distress can get free support when they need it.
We know we need a range services. We need tailored support for Māori, Pacific peoples, rural communities, Rainbow, youth and others – and we’re working with those communities so that we get services that work.
To make that a reality we also need to invest in our mental health workforce, including more trained community based workers.
So last week we announced that more people than ever before – 12,000 over four years - will receive mental health and addiction training. That will include extra training for nurses, entirely new programmes for new mental workers in primary care and short courses to teach people working in community groups such as sports clubs how to spot when people might need support and how to help them find it.
Of course there is far more to addressing mental health and addiction in our society than just improving health services.
We all need to play a part in supporting people in distress – and that’s why someone like Nehe Milner-Skudder speaking up is so important. As he said last Wednesday, “It’s okay to not be okay.
And it’s also okay to talk about it.”
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David Clark is Minister for Health and Labour MP for Dunedin North.