Jacinda Ardern defends another Government delay on mental health response

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has defended delaying the Government's response to the mental health inquiry for a second time.

The Prime Minister said she was aware of "public and media interest" in the Government's response to the inquiry into mental health and addiction, but that it would be delayed until closer to the release of Budget 2019.

"The response will signpost the major change in direction for the way we as a country approach mental health and addiction issues," Ardern said in her Monday post-Cabinet press conference.

She acknowledged that Health Minister Dr David Clark had indicated the Government's response would be released towards the end of April, after it had already been pushed back from March.

But she said the response would be announced "closer to the Budget, so that the public can not only see our plans for transforming our approach to mental health and addiction but can also see how we will resource and deliver that transformation".

The Government released the findings of its ministerial Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction in December last year, after Dr Clark had earlier announced the inquiry in January 2018.

The inquiry found that the annual cost of serious mental illness, including addiction, was an estimated $12 billion, and it recommended urgently implementing a national suicide prevention strategy.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Health Minister Dr David Clark.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Health Minister Dr David Clark. Photo credit: Getty

The Prime Minister labelled the delay a "slight adjustment of a few weeks, just to acknowledge that so much of the substantiate response will come through the Budget".

Ardern had previously suggested that the response had first been pushed back because health officials were dealing with the aftermath of the March 15 Christchurch terror attack.

But Ardern sought to clarify on Monday it wasn't delayed because of the terror attack, telling the media: "I flagged that the only ministry I think really had been directly involved that had any impending reports was health - that is not the reason, though."

She added: "It is literally because so much of the substantiate response is going to come through the Budget. The reason is proximity to the Budget - Christchurch has nothing to do with it."

Max Abbott, dean of the Faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences at Auckland University of Technology, told Newshub last month he expects the response will address the "huge shortfall" in psychological therapy.

And among the 40 recommendations made in the report, of major interest will be whether the Government adopts a suicide reduction target, after it was criticised for the "lack of coordination and resources" to prevent it.

Other recommendations included reforming the Mental Health Act, strengthening the NGO sector, removing criminal sanctions for personal drug use, and establishing a new Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission.

The Government has shown a commitment to mental health, with an announcement on Monday that all Year 1 to 8 children in Canterbury and Kaikōura would receive mental health support from the Mana Ake programme.

The Prime Minister said mental health has been a "significant" priority in the Government's planning for the Wellbeing Budget set to be released in May.

Where to find help and support:

  • Need to Talk? - Call or text 1737
  • Lifeline - 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland
  • Youthline - 0800 376 633, text 234, email talk@youthline.co.nz or online chat
  • Samaritans - 0800 726 666
  • Depression Helpline - 0800 111 757
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)