Stressors identified included length of self-isolation, fear of infection, frustration, boredom, inadequate supplies and financial loss. As a result, many people experienced insomnia, irritability, depression and anxiety, with some people developing post-traumatic stress disorder.

If mental distress continues to increase as a result of self-isolation or the coming economic downturn, our family, friends and work colleagues will be increasingly called upon to support us.

This is why I believe the government should be providing free Psychological First Aid Training online.

Psychological First Aid training is not new. The equivalent of physical first aid training, it was being delivered face-to-face by providers such as St John and Red Cross. It could easily be easily adapted for online platforms and there has never been a greater need for it.

The government has recently announced new online mental health apps but psychological first aid training has an important point of difference – and that is it teaches people about understanding and recognising distress not only in themselves but in other people, as well as delivering techniques for how to respond to others. Over time this will be an important first line of defence in addressing the growing mental and emotional distress in New Zealand as a result of the impacts of COVID-19.

Sadly, we will not be able to rely on the government’s long-awaited frontline mental health service announced a year ago in Budget 2019.

The government announced $455m over four years to set up a new frontline mental-health service. Astonishingly, to date the government has spent only $3.5m of the promised $455m – and when Health Minister David Clarke was asked how many mental-health professionals were working in this new service, he admitted he did not know.

A failed new frontline mental-health service is not the only barrier to accessing mental health services as a result of this government, however.

Average wait times for child and adolescent mental-health services have ballooned over the past two years under the current government. Data obtained from District Health Board (DHB) annual reviews show that wait times have increased by 45 per cent. The government’s high-profile budget announcement of $1.9billion dollars for mental health is not translating into results, with one DHB representative stating they “couldn’t point to where the money is exactly” and that they “think the $1.9 billion hasn’t flowed out yet”.

With 75 per cent of DHBs reporting that their average wait times for child and adolescent mental-health services have increased over the last year, it’s clear the government is not delivering on its promises to lower the barriers to mental-health care and in a time of COVID-19 and signs of an economic downturn that should be a concern to us all.

Matt Doocey, National Party Mental Health Spokesperson

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