Dave Macpherson: Alarming Picture Painted by Mental Health Statistics


At a Waikato DHB meeting last week, staff working in the Mental Health and Addictions Service presented a series of statistics demonstrating the state of Aotearoa’s mental health. It wasn’t a pretty picture and shows the enormity of the task facing the Government, it’s Mental Health Inquiry, and the whole community.

The fact that the statistics presented to us have in most cases been around for a few years begs the question as to why they had not been front and foremost in the minds of the previous Government, its health agencies and, indeed, the previous useless and unlamented former Health Minister, whose name I’ve forgotten.

Kicking off the presentation was a well-known piece of information: 20% of Kiwis experienced mental unwellness in the most recent year measured (2016/7). Yet only a maximum of 40% of those (by some measurements only 10%) actually accessed mental health services during the same period – meaning at least 600,000 people in that year experienced mental unwellness, but didn’t or couldn’t access support.

At some time in their lives, almost 40% of Kiwis will experience some form of mental ‘disorder’, but the proportion for Maori over their lifetime is 51%. When an associated study showing that people with serious mental illness or addiction issues will have up to 25 years’ lower life expectancy is considered, and questions of poverty and poor housing are taken into account, there is no wonder Maori in this country have lower life expectancy than pakeha.

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Delving into this issue further, the studies show Maori are more than twice as likely to die from suicide as the general population, BUT for those able to access mental health support services, that rate is halved – clearly pointing to the problem that Maori are unable, for whatever reason, to access these services at an appropriate stage of their unwellness.

Maori are also twice as likely to suffer from ‘substance use disorders’ as non-Maori, one of the factors that is adding to the extreme pressure acute and community-based mental health services are under, throughout the country.

Two specific pieces of information that show the current mental health system really is not working for Maori followed; ‘seclusion’ orders in inpatient mental health facilities – where patients are locked away from contact with other people (as in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’) – are twice as high for Maori as non-Maori, and Maori are nearly four times as likely to be subjected to Compulsory Treatment Orders in the community – a means under the Mental Health Act of coercively ensuring treatment is undertaken.

Further national statistics showed 52% of Maori classed as having a serious mental health ‘disorder’ had zero contact with any mental health service, while 74% of those with ‘moderate’ disorders had no contact.

Given these terrible statistics, it is not hard to say the current system is clearly not working for the most vulnerable people in Aotearoa, and it’s not too much of a stretch to suggest the system looks like its been designed, and run, completely without the needs of Maori in mind – let alone the needs of the wider population!

In my region, the Waikato, there has been a near trebling of the mental health ‘crisis contacts’ since 2010, where someone is experiencing severe problems, while in the same period the numbers of people arriving at hospital emergency departments (ED) with urgent mental health problems has gone up nearly five times!

With a higher than average Maori population, it is little wonder that Waikato DHB has the worst ‘seclusion’ rates, and the worst ED presentation rates in the country. Its acute inpatient services, at the Henry Bennett Centre, have a bed occupancy rate of about 105% over the last year (the target is about 85% so there will always be beds spare for emergencies), meaning that people are sleeping in corridors and offices on a regular basis. The Government approved a new build for a ‘fit for purpose’ facility in the Waikato over two years ago, something that is yet to happen.

The fact of the matter is that, while Waikato is in one of the worst situations as far as mental health care goes, especially for Maori, the rest of the country is not far behind, and there is a monumental task ahead of us all, if we’re to turn the ship around.


Dave Macpherson is TDB’s mental health blogger. He became a Waikato DHB member after his son died from mental health incompetence.


  1. Mental Health institutions? You mean prisons, because thats where they end up, but hey the other prisoners will look after them right? Guess again, the other prisoners dont enjoy being locked up with unpredictable nutbars and the screws aint paid to be mental health nurses, so a steady diet of beatings and solitary confinement is how they treat depression in New Zealand, dont forget it was Labor that started this whole under funding bullshit in the first place, Natz sure didnt help, but why would they?
    Bury your head in the sand if you must but dont expect your arse not to be reamed, Kiwis you have NO RIGHTS, your leaders sold you out for 30 pieces of silver

    • “being locked up with unpredictable nutbars ”

      WOW! As someone who works in mental health, I thought people like Rickoshay died out in the 70’s. No wonder there is stigma still attached.
      As for your answer to why the Natz didn’t help, there was no money to be made. But then again, with the Natz rampant immigration over the past 9 years, the increase in population has only increased the rate of mental health clients.That alone should have been a reason for the Natz to help.

      • you may work in Mental Health mate but you get to go home after work, i was locked up with the so called mentally ill and seen with my own eyes their treatment, so maybe head on down to the local prison and ask the inmates whats really going on, not take for granted what the bosses tell you is happening, and yes ive been treated for depression, the first treatment they offered was a sit down with a panel of psychotherapists whose main concern was had i murdered anyone lately, or would i like to confess to anything so they could “HELP”lol right, if you where not paranoid before you seen them you sure where afterwards

  2. Sheesh – too depressing. Wow – this is just very, very sad.

    Big attitude change required top to bottom.

  3. Has anyone ever stepped behind the current narratives to question why, over many many dreary decades of ‘targetted Maori health initiatives’, we are STILL hearing the same statistics? (There were Maori district nurses in the Taranaki backblocks ‘way back in the 1950s, for example.)

    For all the culturally sensitive help, the tikanga and kaitiakitanga etc and so forth, plus the amazing Maori academics who Know These Things, there are some weird streams running.

    It’s not universally true, obviously. We have Maori academics and managers and leaders and sports people – you know, thriving and succeeding – so who exactly is propagating the victim and loser stories? To what ends?

    There are some amazing oldies bring up the mokopuna despite the difficulties some present. Do they do it alone? Or do others step in? Where’s the village when you need it? (Where’s the respect from the younger generations who are known to complain, ‘Don’t tell my kid off!’? I was told this by the grandma who had experienced the discourtesy on the marae.)

    The questions need to be asked and answered without a horde of numpties screeching ‘racist!’ in that predictable way.

    There are many and many Maori succeeding as people, families, careerists and carriers of their best cultural values – despite, or even because of, the legacies of ‘colonialism’.
    How? Why?

    Use what works. Drop the rest.

  4. In Roger Douglas book ‘I’ve Not Been Thinking’ he explains how the Te Kuiti railway station master had a worker come in each day sweep the building and hang around for the rest of the day and how this ‘feather bedding’ didn’t add to the nations bottom line. Wrong.

    The guy may have been a skitz whose mate or priest or the labour department manager had jacked up this job with the station master. The guy had a family to keep and the local community made sure he had a low stress job. I worked with a guy in the exact same situation where the Dairy Coop manager employed a skitz guy who if he couldn’t cope on a particular day was still paid no questions asked. These guys had their role in society and were able to look after their families. They werent dumped, no hope, on the dole, deemed not required.

    Thirty years of Rogers neo-liberal scheme to create a “large pool of unemployed and underempolyed” (450,000 at most recent count) and crime, incarceration, mental unwellness is through the roof.

    There is no alternative, these problems can be fixed/alleviated with a Real FULL EMPOLYMENT Policy*.

    *A Real Full Employment Policy is where the last person needing a job is given a job and reasonable income by their society.

    • damn straight, privately owned prison factory with no resort to labor unions or even acc is what you got not mental health hospitails

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