Lit­tle of value from men­tal health in­quiry

The New Zealand Herald - - Editorial & Letters -

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.

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