By: Lucy Bennett

Health Minister David Clark on the mental health report.

Health Minister David Clark has defended the Government’s decision to wait until March before formally responding to the recommendations in a wide-ranging review of New Zealand’s mental health and addiction services.

Following the release yesterday of the Report of the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction, the Government has been told to get on with implementing the changes.

But Clark said the Government would take a considered approach and formally respond by March next year.

“We think we need to work urgently but also carefully through the recommendations,” he said today.

That will also give the Government time to decide how much of Budget 2019 to allocate to it.

“We have already identified mental health and wellbeing as a priority for the next Budget. We’ll be working through the detail on that, informed by the report,” Clark said.

He said the inquiry was a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to rethink how we handle some of the biggest challenges we face as a country”.

The Mental Health Foundation called for the Government to get on with making the changes urgently.

“The Government has been waiting for the inquiry, and the inquiry has instructed them to stop delaying and get going. There is no further justification for delay, too much time and too many lives have been lost,” chief executive Shaun Robinson said in a statement.

The Green Party also urged the Government to move quickly and implement the findings.

“The Government has held back from big change in delivering support while awaiting the report’s findings,” said Chloe Swarbrick, the party’s spokeswoman on mental health and drug law reform.

“Now we have a comprehensive blueprint to solve a crisis that is costing lives and hurting New Zealanders. This Government must heed the recommendations of the report.”

National’s mental health spokesman Matt Doocey said New Zealanders should not have to wait until March to hear about the Government’s response, which he said would take a further six months to fund and implement.

“After an entire year, this report is finally done. Now is the time for the Health Minister to take some action,” Doocey said in a statement.

The report said New Zealand was experiencing a rising tide of mental distress and addiction and would not be fixed by the Government or the health system alone.

Among its recommendations are urgently implementing a national suicide prevention strategy and target, reforming the Mental Health Act, establishing a new Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission to act as a watchdog, and reforming alcohol and drug laws.

The inquiry, led by former Health and Disability Commissioner Ron Paterson, received 5200 submissions and canvassed a range of information.

The report called for a stricter regulatory approach on the sale and supply of alcohol, which it said could include increasing the price of alcohol, raising the drinking age to 20 and reducing opening hours for licensed premises.

Alcohol Action NZ medical spokesman Doug Sellman it could be “arguably the easiest and most effective intervention the Government could enact in order to improve the well-being of New Zealanders”.

The report also called for criminal sanctions for possession of controlled drugs for personal use be replaced with education, treatment and detox services.

Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell said the Government could be confident it would be doing the right thing.

“There is a strong consensus on taking a public health approach to drug issues. We now need the Government to act and to demonstrate this in the 2019 wellbeing Budget,” Bell said.


Q&A

Why hold an inquiry into mental health and addiction?

The inquiry was announced in early 2018 amid growing calls for action on mental health services from within the sector and in the community. It was announced as part of the Government’s 100-day plan.

Who was involved?

Led by former Health and Disability Commissioner Ron Paterson, a six-member panel received more than 5200 submissions, held public meeting at 26 locations attended by 2000 people. Another 400 meetings were held with affected people and their whanau, providers, community organisations and experts.

What are the key recommendations?

The inquiry panel has made 40 recommendations which fall into 10 broad areas

  • Expand access and choice
  • Transform primary health
  • Strengthen the NGO sector
  • Enhance wellbeing, promotion and prevention
  • Place people at the centre
  • Take strong action on alcohol and other drugs
  • Prevent suicide
  • Reform the Mental Health Act
  • Establish a new Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission
  • Wider issues and collective commitment

When will the Government respond and how?

The Government has indicated it will formally respond by March next year, with the report informing the Government’s spending on mental health in Budget 2019

WHERE TO GET HELP:

If you are worried about your or someone else’s mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.

OR IF YOU NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE ELSE:

• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757
• KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 or 09 5222 999 within Auckland (24/7)
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (24/7)
• SAMARITANS – 0800 726 666
• SUICIDE CRISIS HELPLINE: 0508 828 865 (24/7)
• WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email talk@youthline.co.nz

There are lots of places to get support. For others, click here.

Source: NZ Herald

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