Jonathan Coleman calls mental health system 'challenge' not crisis

As the latest mental health tragedy hits the headlines, the Government says that the mental health system is a "challenge" rather than a crisis.

If you think you've heard that before, they've used that line with housing too.

A mental health patient at Palmerston North Hospital went missing four days ago while on an unescorted cigarette break.

On Wednesday, she was found dead and police say there were "no suspicuous circumstances".

The patient was a 21-year-old female who had a three-year-old daughter.

"There'll be a full coroner's inquiry into it and there always have to be lessons learned from these tragedies," Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said.

It's the exact same circumstances as Nicky Stevens - who was also 21 - who died while on a cigarette break from Waikato Hospital's mental health unit.

But the Prime Minister says the mental health system is not in crisis.

"No, it's not broken and every day it's helping thousands of New Zealanders with highly professional staff."

One in six Kiwis will suffer from a mental health disorder, and over the last decade demand for mental health and addiction services have gone from around 96,000 people to almost 168,000.

That's an increase of almost 60 percent, but Dr Coleman says there's no crisis, but a challenge.

"You can always get into a debate over what you call it exactly," he said.

"I think it's a challenge but it always has been and we're responding to that challenge."

But Labour leader Andrew Little says: "I would say it is at crisis point at it does need urgent attention."

Tim Malloy, a rural GP and President of the General Practitioners Association, says the number of GPs is at crisis point and mental health issues are a major concern.

"Twenty percent of the patients you see in general practice have a mental health component or are specifically a mental health issue," he said.

"It's a significant part of the work that we do."

Mental health is increasingly becoming one of the major political issues heading into the election.