Three psychologists warn of 'downwards spiral' with mental health workforce on brink of collapse

Three health experts have described our mental health workforce as on the brink of collapse.

They're proposing a rethink on how more clinicians can be rolled out to a frontline that is in desperate need. 

Two brand new mental health facilities opened at Hillmorton Hospital on Thursday, but on Friday the workforce is crying out for help on the frontline. 

University of Otago Associate Professor James Foulds told Newshub there are about 800 vacancies across the motu in the specialist mental health workforce. 

That's around 10 percent fewer staff available to help those in desperate need. 

"You need to have a well-resourced workforce in order to supply the services that are needed and there is significant demand out there," said Te Pou chief executive Rae Lamb.

Three University of Otago psychologists have proposed ideas to fill the staff recruitment and retainment gap, which includes not relying solely on clinicians with a tertiary level degree.

"There are other kinds of tasks both in inpatient and outpatient environments that could be filled by people with different skill sets," said Prof Foulds. 

Te Pou, the national workforce centre for mental health, said that kind of model is working in non-specialist areas. 

"The biggest workforce is the support workforce and most of those people are people who would fit into that category so they're in effect doing apprenticeships," said Lamb. 

That support at the specialist level could be crucial.

"If we don't fix this very soon we will enter this downwards spiral where the existing staff are increasingly burnt out and they look for opportunities elsewhere," Prof Foulds said. 

Leaving behind the risk of those in need being even more vulnerable.