Mental Health Commissioner Kevin Allan today released his independent assessment of the state of mental health and addiction services and called for a stronger focus on mental wellbeing and recovery.
He said access to mental health services had increased by 73 per cent over the past decade while funding had increased by 40 per cent creating pressure on services and leaving many mental health and addiction needs unmet.
“More of the same is simply not okay. We need to be smarter about what we do and how we provide the most effective support for people.”
His report – which has been released as the Goverment begins an inquiry into mental health and addiction – includes an action plan with a number of recommendations to the Minister of Health including recommending the adoption of a target for the reduction of suicide.
Allen said a target signals serious intent to make real improvements and changes that will benefit consumers. He said such a target should be set after careful consideration, and be the country’s collective responsibility as New Zealanders.
“The World Health Organization recommends setting a target for the reduction of suicide, and calls for a minimum target of 10 percent (reduction), noting that some countries may go further.”
Allan said often services were available to people only once their condition deteriorated and the most common treatment options of medication and therapy don’t address the broader social factors – like housing, income, education and social connections – that help people be well and support their recovery. He added that Māori, Pacific peoples, young people and people in prison had higher mental health and addiction needs than many other population groups and while there were currently services provided to these groups more support was still needed.
Health Minister Dr David Clark said the Commissioner’s report provided confirmation of the need to tackle the drivers of mental health issues. “While we absolutely need quality services to help those in need, we also need to get serious about facing up to the major causes of these issues.” He said the Commissioner was right to talk about the social factors and to highlight the inequalities of treatments and outcomes for Māori, Pacific people and young people.
“I’m confident the Inquiry has the right expertise and breadth of focus to look at the issues raised in today’s report and find meaningful recommendations to improve our community-wide response to mental health and addiction,” said Clark
Workforce under strain
In the report he said his investigation also found signs that the mental health and addiction services were showing signs of strain.
“I have been told that frequent negative media reporting about mental health and addiction services is affecting staff morale and making it harder to attract new recruit,” says Allan in the report. “Service leaders have also advised me that the exclusion of mental health and addiction support workers from the carer pay equity settlement means that these workers are seeking roles outside of the sector.”
Allan acknowledged there were some “real challenges” facing the mental health workforce including having an aging workforce, the recruitment and retention of staff, access to training, working with diverse cultures, and funding.
“These issues need to be addressed, however, we first need a clear plan of action, and can then consider the workforce that will achieve the actions – rather than the other way around.”
He also found that while funding for mental health and addiction services was in theory protected “there are divergent views about the effectiveness of the ring fence in preventing funding from being reprioritised into other parts of the DHB budget”. “Questions were also raised about whether the ring fence now acts more as a barrier to innovation rather than protecting investment in mental well-being and recovery.”
Allan said there were also many signs of progress.
“The majority of consumers report positive experiences of mental health and addiction services, people generally improve when they are in services, and we are seeing some innovative ways to deliver services being trialled.”
He says we need more of these new approaches to mental well-being, developed with consumers.
Mr Allan is calling for an action plan to:
- broaden the focus of service delivery from mental illness and addiction to mental well-being and recovery
- increase access to health and other support services
- improve the quality of mental health and addiction services
- ensure timely information is available about changing levels of need, current services and support, and evidence about best practice
- implement a workforce strategy that enables the sector to deliver better, more accessible services
- achieve changes through collaborative leadership, supported by robust structures and accountabilities to ensure successful, transparent results.