By: Derek Cheng

Watch: The government has ticked off another of the 17 goals on its 100-day plan with details of an inquiry into mental health services revealed today.


Nothing is off the table for the Government’s inquiry to find solutions to the country’s mental health crisis as it prepares to dive into the crisis of a sector that has been overrun by demand.

The inquiry, announced yesterday by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, will take an extensive look at the diverse drivers of mental health issues, including social media pressures, poverty, family violence and homophobia.

It will also look at the underfunding of addiction services, and why there are disproportionate outcomes for Maori and other groups.

Flanked by Health Minister David Clark for the announcement, Ardern encouraged the inquiry to look at the sector from every angle.

“Nothing is off the table. We all know we have a problem with mental health in this country and our suicide rate is shameful. It is well past time for us to do something about it.

“Most of us will know a friend or whānau member who has faced a mental health challenge in their lives. Plenty have reached out and received the support required, but too many still have unhappy stories to tell.”

Many were included in the Herald‘s Break The Silence series last year, which revealed that New Zealand had the worst teen suicide rate and second-worst youth suicide rate in the developed world. The series prompted a number of people to speak out about their dissatisfaction with the system.

The inquiry will report back at the end of October, enough time to include any extra funding for Budget 2019.

“This is not about tinkering. There needs to be significant change,” Clark said.

“All of us have heard stories about things that haven’t worked, so we know there needs to be change, and that may require resources.”

The inquiry, which will be chaired by former Health and Disability Commissioner Ron Paterson, will focus on equity of access to quality services – including addition services.

The inquiry will travel the country and hear public and private submissions.

Other members of the inquiry will be:

  • Dr Barbara Disley, former director of the Mental Health Foundation and former executive chair of the Mental Health Commission; current chief executive of Emerge Aotearoa
  • Sir Mason Durie, an expert in Māori health and culture, who has served on a range of health-related committees, councils and advisory groups, including the Mental Health Foundation (1976-1980), and the National Health Committee (1998-2000)
  • Dean Rangihuna, who works in the frontline of the mental health sector as a forensic Māori consumer adviser for the Canterbury DHB.
  • Dr Jemaima Tiatia-Seath, acting co-head of the School of Pacific Studies at the University of Auckland, with particular expertise and experience in Pasifika mental health and suicide prevention.
  • Josiah Tualamali’i, who received the Prime Minister’s Pacific Youth Award for leadership and inspiration and currently works at the University of Canterbury.

The inquiry, which will cost $6.5 million, will also inform the re-establishment of the mental health commission, which is part of the coalition agreement between Labour and NZ First.

National’s spokesman for Mental Health Matt Doocey said it was time for action, not an inquiry.

He said the previous Government put an extra $100 million in to services based on evidence of what would have the most impact.

Clark said only some of the policies from the previous Government’s $100m towards mental health had been progressed, and the Government would keep any that had merit, and ditch the rest.

Dave Macpherson, who has been calling for an inquiry since his son Nicky Stevens committed suicide while in care at Waikato’s Henry Bennett Centre in 2015, told the Heraldthe Government “was on the right track”.

“I think the Government is absolutely on the right track to have a broad ranging inquiry and look at the reasons behind mental health and not just the services that are provided,” he said.

While he was happy an inquiry was taking place he believed families of suicide victims and mental health patients should have been represented on the inquiry team.

Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson said the current system was not working.

“It’s very encouraging that the Government are committed to an integrated approach to promoting mental wellbeing, preventing mental health problems and responding to the needs to those people who are experiencing mental distress.

“It isn’t just about building more hospitals and specialist services. We need a focus on prevention, as well as system reform.”

Government Inquiry into mental health

  • Will hear from communities, providers, and people with mental health issues all over the country
  • Will assess where the sector is, and make recommendations by the end of October on how to improve it
  • Will look in particular at equity of access, community confidence in the mental health system, and better outcomes – particularly for Māori and other groups with poorer outcomes
  • Will be chaired by former Health and Disability Commissioner Ron Paterson
  • Will cost $6.5m
Where to get help:

• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
• Samaritans 0800 726 666

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

Source: NZ Herald


  1. As a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (Master of Science in Parks and Recreation Management with an emphasis in Therapeutic Recreation) I began working with people who suffered from mental health issues from 1974 through 2011. I went into partial retirement at that time, although I’ve volunteered for a number of years thereafter.
    My concerns about Mental Health issues are many. Most important to me, however, is that many people may have a severe enough illness that they will never be able to work full-time again. Some of the same people with occupational therapy will be able to learn tasks that will enable them to work at least part time. The role of a recreation therapist is to support both occupational therapists and physical therapists in furthering the capabilities of individuals who have a disability, inclusive of mental health. They are partners with these allied professionals rather than competitors. In the situation of someone who has had a stroke the physical and occupational therapist aides in the remediation of the person, but the recreation therapist uses leisure modalities to enable an individual to interact with others through recreation and leisure, adapting or teaching new skills in one’s leisure time.
    For someone who has been diagnosed with a mental illness, the process is much the same. Sometimes recreation and leisure through Recreation Therapy/Therapeutic Recreation is used as assessment tools to learn how long a person can remain on task, if there are any other physical issues going on, cooperation with others, or the ability to listen to instructions. However as one progresses through treatment, recreation and leisure programs offered by a Therapeutic Recreation Specialist can vary according to the interests and needs of an individual. I personally have taught poetry writing, winter/summer survival skills, arts and crafts, swimming, sports skills (softball, racquetball, pickleball, volleyball, bowling, etc), anger management, relaxation, exercise, table games, puzzles and hand chimes. Eye-hand skills, memory, scoring, cooperation, staying on task, and so much more are used in these lessons. Each individual I worked with had an individual program plan which broke down the skills and results expected as improvements for that person. Further, I charted in the progress notes for each person, which included whether or not the person was meeting the goals and objectives of the treatment interventions.

    Having taught Therapeutic Recreation here in New Zealand I appreciated the places individuals could go for support, whether it was learning new recreation and leisure skills, working on home skills which is clearly an occupational therapist’s expertise, or merely for social interaction. I am fully aware that many of those centers were closed a few years ago, including Jacaranda House in Napier, which was a site where one of my students had completed her internship. These sites were critical to stabilization for people who happen to experience mental health issues — regardless of short-term or long-term episodes.

    I fully support having these types of centers. I fully support that there needs to be Therapeutic Recreation Therapists working alongside the occupational therapists (who frankly have encroached on my profession here in New Zealand, setting aside there more critical interventions), and physical therapists. The Therapeutic Recreation Therapists are truly allied professionals and can only be a benefit to New Zealand. I will say that at Lincoln University where Dr. Carol Stensrude worked for a number of years, had people who were Inclusion Therapists. Under the National Recreation and Park Association in the United States, the people working in my profession are called Inclusion Therapists as well. Whichever title is used, the process is the same and we are indeed Recreation Therapists.


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