A public submission to the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction outlines a completely new system to address the crisis in New Zealand’s mental health services – so that no one who seeks help is turned away and everyone is offered more than medication.

PeerZone and ActionStation invited the public to sign the submission to the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction asking for open access to a full menu of services, supports and opportunities. Over 2,000 people signed and I presented the Wellbeing Manifesto to the Inquiry panel on 31 July.

I told the panel that a health-led system will not deliver the fundamental changes needed – psychiatry needs to move from the hub of the system to being one of the spokes in a multi-sector community-led system.

The full submission is called The Wellbeing Manifesto for Aotearoa New Zealand and it starts where the People’s Mental Health Report left off, with wide-ranging and long-term recommendations.

The People’s Mental Health Report was a crowdfunded and crowdsourced story-based inquiry into the public mental health system in partnership with psychologist Kyle McDonald and comedian Mike King.

The 500 stories that were summarised in the People’s Mental Health Report show that the system is routinely failing people. Every week I hear stories of desperate people who can’t get into services.

People who do get into services also get a bad deal. Some come out of crowded and coercive inpatient wards feeling worse than when they arrived. People are given a lot of pills but very little help to resolve their psychological, social, family and financial problems.

The Wellbeing Manifesto outlines a new system to address these persistent problems so that no one is turned away and everyone is offered more than medication.

The first thing we need to do is stop habitually viewing mental distress and addiction as health problems that can only be fixed by medical interventions.

The Wellbeing Manifesto calls for all the sectors that have responsibility for wellbeing, distress and addiction — such as health, social development, justice, corrections and education — to jointly fund a full menu of services at the local level, in partnership with people affected by distress and addiction.

This menu includes personal and whānau support; income, work and housing support; talking therapies and treatments; spiritual healing; and crisis responses. The services need to be co-delivered and under as few roofs as possible, in such settings as primary health facilities, marae, community centres, schools and large workplaces.

At the same time, the workforce needs to undergo a transformation so that cultural workers and peer workers (who have lived experience of distress and addiction), work alongside the traditional workforce with equal status and in equal numbers.

The Wellbeing Manifesto is part of an international groundswell for change in the way people think about and respond to mental distress and addiction.

Our system cannot self-organise into a better one. It needs a circuit-breaking political solution and this government has said it is up for it.

To read the full manifesto go to https://www.wellbeingmanifesto.nz/

Author: Mary O’Hagan, is the director of Peer Zone, a social enterprise that develops supports and resources for people with mental distress, run by people who have used mental health services. She was a Mental Health Commissioner from 2000 to 2007.


  1. With all due respect to Mary O’Hagan, the above article and her Wellbeing Manifesto do not anywhere explain to us just how we practically (and far more important, economically) can institute the changes she visionalises. The fact remains that we have about 8000 mental health personnel (most of them with no special psychiatric training) – but not enough psychiatric in-patient beds to deal with our acute cases of schizophrenia, let alone respite care. More ominously, it seems to me she adheres to the cult of anti-psychiatry which raised its ugly head in the 1960s – and still has supporters among our mental health authorities (notably the Mental Health Foundation). Mary O’Hagan is building castles in the air.


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