Little of value from mental health inquiry
The result of the Government’s inquiry into mental health and addiction is a great disappointment. This country has no greater problem than its very high rate of youth suicide. All families that have lost a young member in this way, and all those who fear a young family member may be at risk, would have awaited the results of the inquiry with hope that some new and practical solution would emerge.
They would have read its conclusions this week with a sinking heart. The Report of the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction is 250 pages of verbiage we already knew. Its recommendations amount to spending more on services for the less serious levels of mental illness and distress.
The frustration of families who have lost disturbed young folk to suicide is often that the person had no supervision when they needed it or were released from supervision too soon. Yet despite hearing from thousands of people in its year-long investigation, the inquiry has decided the country needs an even less coercive approach to the care of the mentally ill than it already has.
It is not clear what that would mean in practice. It is not clear what any of its primary recommendations would mean in practice. It recommends the setting up of a permanent Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission to set a target for services to the mentally ill and addicted. Targets are a good idea if needs and services are welldefined but they are not well defined by this report.
It suggests a commission, in partnership with the Ministry of Health, should “facilitate a national codesigned service transformational process with people with lived experience of mental health and addiction challenges”. In plain language, ask the mentally ill and addicted how services can be improved.
Again, that is what this inquiry was supposed to be doing. If an inquiry led by a very good former Health and Disability Commissioner, Ron Paterson, cannot come up with concrete practical proposals for improved services, it is hard to see how a Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission will be any more successful.
The problem for this inquiry from the outset is that the Government did not give it a precise focus. It was asked to range over any issues bearing a possible influence on mental health and addiction and that it has done. It wants more restrictions on the sale of alcohol and the decriminalisation of controlled drugs, which both raise issues much wider than mental health and addiction.
The Government will consider the recommendations, with the likelihood that any significant spending will not be confirmed until next year’s Budget, still six months away.
In the interim, Parliament must focus on people not politics. There should be cross-party discussions to chart a course that will ensure new approaches have the opportunity to survive any change in government.
The inquiry saw itself as a “once in a generation” opportunity for change. We are still waiting.