Stressed mental health system needs 'urgent inquiry'

Stressed mental health system needs 'urgent inquiry'

The former president of the World Mental Health Foundation is calling for an independent inquiry into our mental health system.

The sector is in the spotlight after a series of tragic incidents, and experts told TV3's The Nation on Saturday the sector is in a crisis.

Whether it's services stretched to breaking point, or professionals burnt out and exhausted, a depressing picture is emerging of our mental health system.

Stressed mental health system needs 'urgent inquiry'

For 16 years, Mr Colwell has worked as a community mental health worker in Auckland.

"Across the whole system of mental health, I'd say it is in crisis."

He says a growing population combined with a lack of funding means there aren't enough resources to treat the mentally ill.

"The resources just haven't been able to match that demand, and I think that as we've had a greater number of people coming to us needing the service, we've become so stretched we can't provide the service we want to provide."

The increase in demand is also leading to staffing shortages.

"I came across someone the other day who had 70 or 80 cases, one fellow who was filling in for someone else who had 110 cases, and that's just completely unsustainable," says Public Service Association organiser Brendon Lane.

Psychotherapist Kyle McDonald says the recent case in which four people died, including Otorohanga man Ross Bremner and his mother, is a symptom of a system that's falling apart.

"Things are at a very dangerous point I think, and we're starting to see some of the effects of that in terms of people not being able to access care, and lots of concerned people saying you know, people at risk are now being left in the community, with the consequences that that causes."

Stressed mental health system needs 'urgent inquiry'

He wants an urgent national inquiry into our mental health system - so too does the former president of the World Mental Health Foundation.

"One of the reasons why I want an independent inquiry is because we don't have solid information," says Professor Max Abbott.

"If you said to me, have mental health problems increased? Well frankly, I don't know."

The Ministry of Health says it's increased funding for mental health and addiction services by $300 million since 2008. But taking into account inflation and population growth, Infometrics says the budget has been underfunded by $1.7 billion over the past five years.