Dave Macpherson: Is Labour on top of mental health issues?


Recent statistical and anecdotal information suggests that the answer to this question is; ‘No, it’s not’.

A well-thought-out Stuff article has analysed the ‘seclusion’ of patients in mental health facilities – where individuals claimed to be at risk to themselves or others are literally locked into rooms by themselves.

The headline of the Stuff article said: ‘ Huge growth in use of ‘last resort’ seclusion indicates mental health system in crisis, and in worse shape than when Labour elected in 2017‘ – it echoes my own feeling, although I temper that by saying I believe the general community, some practitioners, and many whanau of people suffering from mental ill health have a better understanding of the issues than they did 5 years ago – it’s just the official, state-funded system that is still crap, and maybe more crap than when Labour took office.

As the Stuff article states “it is generally accepted that the practice is extremely distressing for patients and the Health Quality and Safety Commission launched a project to end the practice in 2017, after scathing condemnation of New Zealand from the United Nations Committee Against Torture.”

Only in that time, the incidence of ‘seclusion’ increased by about 20%, and both the Government-appointed HQSC and the new Mental Health Commission have been remarkably silent on the worsening situation. And the Ministry Of Health Mental Health bosses delayed the release of these figures by at least a year in part – the same MoH bosses who were running the show under the previous unlamented National administration.

To give them credit, the more independent Mental Health Foundation doubled down by calling the crisis for what it is, after also recently criticising the Government and the new Mental Health Commission for their snail-like pace in implementing the mental health reforms proposed in the 2018 Mental Health Inquiry. CEO Shaun Robinson pointed out that the clear call of communities and whanau speaking to the Inquiry was to devolve practice delivery, decision-making and resources out into the communities themselves, was not being ignored in practice.

Two years ago, when that Inquiry report came out, this blog welcomed its findings and recommendations, as it did the Government policy and budgetary commitments that followed – BUT we said the proof of the pudding would be in the eating, and the taste has been pretty non-existent ever since.

The practice of ‘seclusion’, of ECT (electric shock) treatment, of overwhelmingly choosing to medicate acute patients up to the gills with debatably dangerous chemicals are all signs of a 21st Century version of a Victorian mental health system, where the mentally unwell are doped, sedated and generally shut away from the community, because you have no strategies to support them getting well again.

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Last month I listened to newly-minted Health Minister Andrew Little being very defensive on Radio NZ when being asked why the agreed and funded mental health reforms had mostly not yet been implemented. He pretty much said that ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ – a disappointing response from someone who many of us had a deal of respect for. The Chair of the Mental Health Commission was even more hopeless, and seemed more concerned with patch and boss protection, than in outlining how they would hold the Government to account on behalf of the community. Having been on the Inquiry team, it appears that he’s secured a nice job.

A very large part of the problem is that the Government has quite literally left the same crowd at the Ministry of Health in charge of mental health policy and oversight, and they have allowed their DHB delivery arms to keep the same crowd in charge of the mental health facilities and services around the country. We have the same Director of Mental Health, John Crawshaw, in place as was around when ‘Doctor Death’, Jonathan Coleman, was National Minister of Health.

While both the Minister of Health, and Saint Ashley, continue to rely on failed mental health bosses to advise them, the needed service delivery and cultural changes will not happen, or at best will be so glacial that the desired outcomes of the Inquiry will never be realised.

Dave Macpherson – TDB mental health blogger & Former Waikato DHB Elected Member whose son was killed by public health incompetence. 


  1. No I don’t think Labour are on top of the mental health issue yet and to make matters worse the Meth epidemic is creating havoc in our country.

  2. With all the worried well mentally ill, competing against the seriously mentally ill, and the demand of new residents who are also increasingly mentally ill, this seems like yet another crisis that is yet to be addressed by government and while on hold, getting massively worse. Remember we used to have ‘prevention’ advertising for health, now it seems to be more about market demand and paid for advertorials for private interests.

    One interesting thing happening which I think people need to be more aware of is ‘health’ creep. AKA everyone becoming ‘part of the group’ which can mean that those worse effected miss out on both being the spokespeople for the illness/disability and also miss out on care and funding when a more minor effected part of the condition, starts to take over the discourses. This is also important to consider for mental health.

    It has happened for autism where so many people are considered ‘on the spectrum’ that the worst effected by autism can be minimised and then the worse effected lose funding and care. In short it is good to be aware many people are effected by a condition, but dangerous to put them all into the same category and reduce funding of one severely disadvantaged group to favour funding of another less disadvantaged group whose circumstances and ability are completely different.

  3. My instincts feel like theres a proportion of NZ nurses are doing 24hr shifts under corona conditions. May as well put them in those nice quarantine hotels tell we can figure out something permanent. They got security. Nice food. Wha??? It’s already fully funded. Go man.

  4. Is Labour on top of any issue?
    We need a REAL left wing party, not a soft ShonkeyJohnkey party.
    It’s not Democracy if you can vote for anyone you like as long as ‘the elites’ control the parties you can (realistically) vote for. e.g. USA with the two party system that are basically the same party with a 1-2% difference.

  5. Not having a secure stable home is the biggest cause of depression. I know this personally. Judasinda caused this latest crisis by saying she and kiwis expect prices to go up. This triggered the ultra parasites into action. Labours policies will have undoubtadly caused many suicides. What a betrayal, but hey at least if you own several homes you are even more happy than you were before.

    • Hi Tory, have your tried reaching out to the organisations about your depression? I don’t know how good the organisations are, are but maybe they can help you in some way?
      Depression Helpline is available 24/7. Phone: 0800 111 757

  6. I agree are Labour on top of anythink . Light rail back to the drawing board /housing prices up rents up building down/health waiting list grow to get in and then getting the treatment required / climate one move forward 2 moves back / education class sizes growing teacher shortages growing / police leaderless / prisons a mess with a minister that cannot decide if he is on the side of the prisoners or his staff.
    But what is the alternative concidering many of these problems were inherited. In times gone by a revolution may have been started but most would rather stay at home and watch the sport and puff on a joint or sink a few cold ones.

  7. One important issue that I think is often overlooked with mental health services is that the training and resourcing of front line workers is key. And increasing the mental health workforce and training them in evidence based strategies is an enormous job. It all rises and falls on this.

    • Working in the service I can tell you one thing for certain, if our population increases, then so needs the resources to increase at the same rate. In my time, this has never happened and we end up chasing our tail.

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