David Macpherson: New Government needs new action on Mental Health & Suicide

By   /   October 24, 2017  /   10 Comments

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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.

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.

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  1. Kim dandy says:

    Nationals empty ‘ wrap around services’ words and it’s underfunding of essential services has caused untold harm over the past decade. For that reason alone no National MP should ever set foot in parliament again. Knowingly causing harm, and getting away with it… really? No accountability? Such a caring country we live in…

  2. Shona says:

    I wept reading about Jonny.

  3. HC says:

    I heard on Radio New Zealand news this morning, that some insiders think, Labour will continue with the investment approach in delivering social services. They may make a few changes, with a slightly altered approach, but generally, there will be the same kind of stuff provided, as the Nats have.

    So that explains why Labour were mostly silent on this topic during and even prior to the election campaign.

    Of course they will invest more in mental health service provision, but I would not hold my breath.

    We can expect a rather ‘pragmatic’ government, as New Zealand First will have ensured that no wastage of government funds, or whatever they may consider as such, will occur.

    The policies we will see will be less ‘left’ than many reading here may hope, and rather be based on pragmatism and on what they may consider has some merit, based on evidence, or what they see as such.

    So overall, not all that much will change radically.

  4. HC says:

    This is what Radio New Zealand reported on today:

    So the story is, there are apparently many persons working in the sector, health and welfare, who push for a continuation of the investment approach (remember the tendering the National led government was going to have, to involve investors such as banks).

    As Labour have been rather silent on this – for quite some time – I expect that there will be continuation of this approach, with some changes to how it is done and how effectiveness is monitored and evaluated.

    • CLEANGREEN says:

      I will expect when more suicide cases of clusters cme along the national spinners will blame it all on labour for dong nothing to change the suicide rate so Labour get ready to make changes.

  5. Anke says:

    Firstly, when working with people with mental health issues, particularly psychosis, family and or at least one carer should be part of the treatment team……….there is no excuse for this and mental health patients will accept it, if that is how it is presented to them. It is in everyone’s best interest to include the family in treatment.

    An interesting study done in 1984 rural Buckingham (undertaken by expatriot NZder and cousin to a former Natioanl Minister BTW, Professor Ian Falloon. He included family as part of the treatment team, end of story. Had the good fortune to train with him when he was Professor of Psychiatry at Ak Uni in the 1990’s. This idea was somewhat novel then as was the concept of early warning signs of relapse. There is a lot we already know about optimal treatment for these disorders.
    I take some heart that on Labour’s list was a Clinical Psychologist Sarb Johal, who knows about evidence based treatment etc. He didn’t make it in, but I hope he is advising them. BTW in Scotland they have a separate Minister of Mental Health. The idea of free mental health consultations at GP is excellent (Labour). In NZ in my experience the GPs do most of the donkey’s work in mental health. Also the co-ordinator based at the GP’s surgery. It does all come down to the skill and the training of the mental heatlh professional though.

  6. Danyl Strype says:

    I remember the Greens launching policy to put an integrated health hub in every school in the country, to ensure the health of both the kids and their whānau. This could address mental health as well as physical health. Not sure if that is part of their social welfare agreement with Labour? NZ First would surely support this.

  7. Jack says:

    Giving young people useful skills to deal with the difficult and often painful feelings and emotions of being young would give them a good start, not simply armouring them up.

    • Sam Sam says:

      License requirements, decent set of tyres, decent set of brake pads, WoF, rego, wheele alignment, petrol. These are just some of the things that are just far to expensive for modern day slaves with student debt, mortgage, credit card debt and a 9to5.

      So I wouldn’t dismiss armour too easily.