Government's new mental health funding blasted by counsellors

Government's new mental health funding blasted by counsellors
Photo credit: Getty

The New Zealand Association of Counsellors (NZAC) has blasted the Government's latest mental health announcement as "a total waste of taxpayer money".

The Government has announced a major funding package as it ramps up its mental health response amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

A further $40 million is being invested into 100 new free mental health and addiction services, on top of the 22 already existing across the country.

The programme will be fully rolled out by the middle of next year and will be available for an estimated 1.5 million people. Further services will then be rolled out over the following three years.

But NZAC president Christine Macfarlane, who represents nearly 3000 currently practising counsellors, says Kiwis who are stressed need immediate support.

She says they can't wait 12 months to see someone with "basic training and little-to-no experience".

"The Government's announcement is absolutely perplexing and a case of reinventing a perfectly good wheel," she says in a statement on Saturday. 

"Why waste all that taxpayer money giving scratch training to a whole new workforce when there's a much better qualified, hugely experienced and already well-trained workforce just waiting to be put to good use right now by this Government?"

National's mental health spokesperson Matt Doocey says the Government isn't getting money to frontline services fast enough.

"Today's re-announcement of $40 million for mental health services reveals this new frontline service is only operating in 22 practices currently. This is less than two percent of New Zealand's GP practices," he says in a statement.

"Expanding this by 100 practices in 14 months' time will only increase coverage to less than 10 percent of GPs nationwide. This is not the level of service New Zealanders were told they were getting by the health minister a year ago."

However Health Minister David Clark describes the funding package as "the biggest and most positive change to the way we approach mental health in decades".

"Rolling out such an ambitious new service requires an entirely new workforce. We've made sure not to lose momentum during the lockdown, and have adapted the training so that from May it can be delivered virtually," he says.

"Many people across New Zealand will be feeling distress or anxiety about the future because of COVID-19. We want people to know that it's normal to feel this way in times of uncertainty, and that there is free support available for people to talk with a professional."

Where to find help and support: 

  • Shine (domestic violence) - 0508 744 633
  • Women's Refuge - 0800 733 843 (0800 REFUGE)
  • Need to Talk? - Call or text 1737
  • What's Up - 0800 WHATS UP (0800 942 8787)
  • Lifeline - 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland
  • Youthline - 0800 376 633, text 234, email or online chat
  • Samaritans - 0800 726 666
  • Depression Helpline - 0800 111 757
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
  • Shakti Community Council - 0800 742 584