Despite strong feedback from the public, political parties are still mostly shying clear from campaigning on mental health and suicide issues in the election campaign.
Labour has had a successful public meeting in Christchurch on the subject, but haven’t responded to efforts to get them to run similar meetings in other centres; Mike King has told the NZ First conference “anyone who thinks mental health isn’t an election issue is stupid, naïve and shouldn’t be in the race”; the Greens have collectively got a little outraged when I publicly suggested action from them on mental health had been lacking, but I still haven’t seen it; and dear old useless Health Minister Jonathan Coleman has just discovered (13 July) after 9 years that National’s “current approach to youth suicide is not working”.
Beyond that, there is no sign that the parties in contention have really done any heavy lifting in this vital policy area, so I thought I’d give them a little help by listing what I think should be included:
- A comprehensive, independent review of current mental health services – not run by the sector, the Ministry or anyone with a stake in existing services
- A good strong look at the causes of the high incidence of suicide and mental health problems in New Zealand, particularly among Maori & Pacific Island groups, and among young people; including consideration of the effects of poverty, poor housing and unemployment
- Trained staff to provide mental health support in every school
- Restore mental health training as a compulsory element of GP training
- Provide residential respite care, with trained support staff, for patients transitioning from Hospital inpatient care to the community, and to avoid the need for some to use full hospital residential services
- Have a common-sense based risk analysis policy for mental health patients in hospital or community care that puts the safety of the patients first, followed by staff and community
- A requirement to include, listen to, and take on board family views and support when developing treatment plans for people with mental illness
- Consider the role of what is effectively a drugs-first treatment policy within the mental health sector. Drugs may have short-term positive outcomes for some people with mental illness, but rarely work in the long-term, and are never the ONLY answer to mental illness
- Ensure the national budget for mental health costs is set at level that enables treatment and support to be free for all who need it; and that it keeps pace with cost an needs changes on a bi-partisan basis.
- Provision of national and local leadership in the mental health sector that is not tied to the apron-strings of any Government: that admits mistakes and problems, and learns from them; and that doesn’t claim to have all the answers.
Of course, these won’t be the only elements of a good mental health policy, but in my opinion – if any of them are missing – then there will be gaps in that policy, that will need to be revisited in short order.
David Macpherson is TDB’s mental health blogger. He became involved in mental health rights after the mental health system allowed his son to die. He is now a Waikato DHB Member.