Underfunded, under-resourced and over-medicating - Mike King slates mental health system

This article deals with mental health problems, including attempted suicide. 

Campaigner Mike King says the mental health system is underfunded and under-resourced, and the Government needs to figure out what is working before throwing more money at the problem.

It comes after a damning report of the mental health system found 95 percent of respondents had negative experiences. The People's Mental Health Report shared personal stories of long wait times, too much reliance on medication and overworked staff.

The report recommended an urgent increase in funding, mental health education programmes and the reinstatement of the Mental Health Commissioner. 

Stresses on the system mean "good people are forced to make bad calls", Mr King said on The AM Show.

People are having problems trying to access the service, and once accepted they are struggling and being turned away, he said.

Mr King said as recently as Wednesday night, a friend's employee attempted suicide.

"She was taken to hospital at 1am. At 3am she was dropped back at his place. This is happening over and over and over again in our system. People are constantly being turned away at our hospitals."

  • If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs immediate help, call Lifeline on 0800 543 354 or the Suicide Prevention Helpline on 0508 828 865.

Faced with overloaded services, professionals are using medication as a stopgap between appointments, Mr King said.

"If you can afford mental health care, it is there - the private sector is there. If you're an ordinary New Zealander you will go to your GP. Your GP will put you in a waiting room, usually the medicated waiting room.

"Then you will get an appointment to see someone else, and then usually 14 weeks to six months later, you will get to see someone."

The Mental Health Foundation agrees a wide range of problems need to be urgently addressed.

Speaking to Kim Blair on RadioLIVE's First at Five, chief executive Shaun Robinson said "the whole system is under so much strain" and funding has not kept pace with demand.

"The momentum has definitely gone out of development in mental health", he said.

"There are new ideas, new ways of addressing mental illness and building up resilience and it's absolutely vital that we have a plan."

Mr King claimed the Government has a poor grasp on mental health spending and it needs to review what is working before committing to more funding.

"If you went and asked [Health] Minister Jonathan Coleman how much he is spending on mental health services, he wouldn't have a clue. He couldn't get within 50 million bucks of it.

"Do a stocktake. Look into the pantry, see what we've got before you go out shopping."

Mr King acknowledged the report was an open call and was therefore more likely to attract respondents with negative experiences of the mental health system.