ACT Deputy Leader and Health Spokesperson Brooke van Velden
ACT Deputy Leader and Health Spokesperson Brooke van Velden

OPINION: Mental health needs a major overhaul - ACT Deputy Leader and Health Spokesperson Brooke Van Velden

Opinion 11/09/2020

This op-ed is written by ACT Deputy Leader and Health Spokesperson Brooke Van Velden

Mental health needs a major overhaul

OPINION: We need to have an honest conversation about mental health in this country.  

This week marked World Suicide Prevention Day and our statistic are heart-breaking. We can’t go on like this. I want to live in a country where we put people at the heart of mental health care and treat it as important as physical health care. I also want to live in a country where we think for the future and challenge the status quo.

We’ve needed to reform our mental health system for a long time, but even more so now following Covid. As we stare down a global pandemic from our island nation, many Kiwis are facing major unplanned disruptions in their lives and uncertain futures in work. 

Around one in five New Zealanders will face a mental health challenge in any given year and as many as four in five throughout their life. 

Many people don’t ever reach out for help and struggle in silence. Poor mental health goes untreated throughout New Zealand from the classroom to the woolshed. Our youth suicide rate is our darkest statistic.

Too often, those who do reach out for help describe a system that’s difficult to navigate, huge discrepancy in access to care from region to region, and a lack of choice in services to suit their individual needs. Almost no one is satisfied with the state of mental health care in New Zealand.

The truth is that mental health care is a victim of the ailing District Health Boards. To transform mental health care, we need to remove mental health funding and provision from the hands of the 20 separate DHBs and other government silos.

We need to create one stand-alone nation-wide mental health commissioning agency that empowers those seeking help to make choices for their own therapy and care, rather than simply accept the provider a District Health Board offers.

One central interface would reduce bureaucracy and administrative burden. Creating a purchaser-provider split would level the playing field between the District Health Board’s own services and alternative community providers. As a commissioning agency, it would use its expertise and patterns of data to drive better performance from the sector, evaluating where the money is going, to whom, and what services work based on evidence and data.

The current Covid climate has created an unprecedented amount of stress and uncertainty for all New Zealanders.

People who’ve never accessed mental health care before are likely to struggle getting the help they need at a time when we need it most. Under a new nation-wide agency, we can ensure the vulnerable can access the services and support that is so critical right now.

Now more than ever, we need to be considering whether the Government’s policy frameworks are fit for purpose, including for mental health care.

We can’t continue to pump money into a failing model. New Zealanders deserve better. Before we spend more money, we should question what we’re funding and whether it’s working and what can be improved.

This op-ed is written by ACT Deputy Leader and Health Spokesperson Brooke Van Velden