Still feeling a warm glow of satisfaction over Labour Weekend following the ousting of former Health Minister Jonathan Coleman, whose inaction on mental health and suicide was legendary, I was brought down to earth sharply by a story published on Labour Day about Jonny – a young male Christchurch suicide victim.
Seeing a photo of Jonny playing a guitar and wearing a grey knitted beanie, reminded me strongly of our son Nicky – usually attired similarly and also a suicide victim, two and a half years ago.
The article brought home to me emphatically that just because we have a new Government, it doesn’t mean the awful scourge of suicide and the dramatic worsening in mental health statistics will somehow melt away because Jacinda, Winston and James have got some policies that sound like they might be an improvement.
Feeling like I was experiencing a deja vue episode, I read about the two-decades long struggle of Jonny and his supportive family to get decent treatment and support from Canterbury mental health authorities.
Psychiatric ‘professionals’ did not believe that Jonny was ‘hearing voices’ and kept releasing him after psychotic episodes without support plans in place, other than a ‘monthly injection’. The ‘professionals’ told Jonny’s family that he ‘was an adult’ and that his family ‘had no authority to speak for him’ – despite diagnosing him as schizophrenic, and placing under a compulsory Mental Health Act care order – exactly the same response our family received from the local branch of ‘professionals’ in the Waikato.
Jonny died alone less than two days after his last stay in Hillmorton Hospital, Canterbury DHB’s mental health inpatient centre.
Shortly after we published Jonny’s story on the ‘Nicky Autumn Stevens’ Facebook page, an Invercargill woman posted a lengthy comment outlining her similar, and ongoing, experiences with a family member and the mental health ‘professionals’ in her area.
The struggles and heartache of these Christchurch and Invercargill families, and our Waikato family – and thousands of other New Zealand families – will continue until there are dramatic and meaningful changes to our mental health system.
The incoming Government MUST URGENTLY
- Set up the promised Inquiry into our mental health system within the next few months (and not the ‘review’ that some MPs mentioned just before the election);
- Get trained counsellors into our high schools and lower schools by the start of next year, and – as soon as they can be trained – mental health practitioners in there as well;
- Fund residential respite care centres in all regions, staffed by trained people who can support those leaving the acute mental health inpatient units, OR head them off needing to go in there;
- Develop in every DHB area support programmes for mental health patients that do not rely solely on drug regimes, and provide ‘wrap-around’ services including accommodation and employment;
- Require mental health practitioners to consult, and work with families of mental health patients to look at better ways of harnessing family support for their loved ones.
Following the Inquiry – whose panel must include recovering patients and family/whanau membership – the Government should develop medium and long term plans to turn around New Zealand’s mental health services, and reduce the terrible suicide and mental health statistics this country is experiencing.
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.