Mental health advocate Mike King has lashed out at the "morons" at the Ministry of Health and "condescending" Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Last week, King announced he will return his New Zealand Order of Merit medal because he feels "things haven't changed" in New Zealand's mental health sector and "so many are still suffering". He was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to mental health awareness and suicide prevention in 2019.
As part of his Gumboot Friday initiative, King can offer free counselling sessions for five to 24-year-olds. From 2019 to 2020, $2 million was raised which funded 15,500 counselling sessions for young people.
Of the young people who access counselling through Gumboot Friday, 40 percent are aged 11 and under, but to qualify for a Ministry of Health tender, King says he's consistently referred to their programme for 12 to 24-year-olds.
"This is how out of touch these morons down at the Ministry of Health are - and they're morons. They don't know that 40 percent of the counselling services out there are for kids 11 and under. That's how out of touch they are," he tells The Hui.
"My organisation has spoken to more kids face-to-face in this country than all of their people put together. They sit down there and they talk to their friends who have written papers… and they ignore the people that utilise these services."
King says Gumboot Friday was developed to meet the needs of the people. They've ended up with 3854 counsellors on their books and the average rate they pay is $139 per session.
"[The counsellors are] all private. These are all people who don't want to work for the Ministry of Health and the DHBs. These are fully qualified mental health professionals," he says.
King says a lack of counsellors isn't an issue, it's that "no one wants to pay".
"My charity has been giving out free counselling sessions since 2015, but we put it to the public of New Zealand in 2019 and the public got behind us. They donated $1.5 million for free kids' counselling. So we've been doing it ever since."
A Ministry of Health spokesperson was unable to appear on The Hui to respond to King. However, Toni Gutschlag, the ministry's deputy Director-General of mental health and addiction, said in a statement they are committed to making sure mental wellbeing support and services are available to young people.
"Good progress is being made in rolling out a large programme of work that will see young people have greater access to and choice of mental health and addiction information and support," she says.
"We are investing in youth-specific mental health and wellbeing services around the country with specific youth services announced in 13 different areas. New services are being offered in youth-friendly environments including schools, youth health providers, sports clubs and other places in the community that are easily accessible and acceptable to young people."
Further to this, she says the ministry has given Youthline around $1 million. There is also a mental health professional in over 195 GPs around the country that young people can access for free. Gutschlag says these services see around 10,000 people each month.
They're also looking at specific services for Rainbow youth and supporting health workforces to better understand the needs of Rainbow young people.
"Budget 2019 also provided funding to expand School-Based Health Services to all publicly-funded decile 5 schools, providing coverage for an additional 21,000 students," she says.
"In 2018 we invested in Mana Ake - Stronger for Tomorrow, providing wellbeing support to approximately 60,000 students in years 1-8 across Canterbury and Kaikoura schools. Over the next year, we are designing similar services in five more areas around the country: Northland, Counties Manukau, Bay of Plenty, Lakes, and West Coast. This is part of the Government’s commitment to roll Mana Ake out across New Zealand."
King has previously criticised Health Minister Andrew Little and the Ministry of Health for their "incompetence".
"The Minister Andrew Little said in February capacity is a problem - there weren't enough councillors," he told The AM Show last week.
"At 10:30am that same morning I was in his office telling him we had 3584 councillors nationwide, ready to go at an average cost of $134, and the only thing missing was someone to pay for it."
King went on to say the Ministry of Health doesn't know where the $1.9 billion cash splash from 2020's Budget has gone.
"There is more than enough money in the system - it's just the incompetence at the top. It is so up the creek without a paddle it's ridiculous, and families are suffering."
Ardern's 'condescending' response
After King announced he was going to return his Order of Merit medal, Ardern said she didn't believe King had been in touch with her about it, but she said the work to improve mental health care in New Zealand wasn't complete yet.
"While I totally respect Mike's decision, his honour was about the contribution he's made to improving people's lives - and that stands," she said last week.
King says Ardern's response was "condescending".
"I'm not finished [with fighting for mental health care]. I saw Jacinda's condescending response to me: 'Oh it's just Mike, we all know what Mike's like'," he says.
"I'm telling the nation now - I haven't even begun to fight."
He says he wants New Zealanders to email him a small paragraph on how the Ministry of Health has "let your child down" to firstname.lastname@example.org. From there, he says he will ensure this gets in front of all New Zealanders, including the Ministry of Health and Ardern.
"I will make it so they can't ignore you," he says.
"We can beat these people. Their days of telling the people of New Zealand what they're going to do are over."
Made with support from Te Māngai Pāho and NZ On Air.