Budget 2019: More than $1 billion for mental health 'massive step forward'

Warning: This article discusses suicide

A mental health advocate says the Government's investment in mental health in Thursday afternoon's Budget announcement is a "massive step forward".

The Government is investing $1.9 billion in improving mental health services - something it heavily foreshadowed ahead of the Wellbeing Budget's release.

That includes a $455 million package to offer frontline services for 325,000 people who need mental health support before they experience major problems.

Jazz Thornton, who established Voices of Hope - an organisation dedicated to providing hope for people struggling with mental issues - told Newshub seeing the big increase in early intervention was something that's been pushed for a long time.

"I've known many, many young people who have taken their lives who I guarantee could have been prevented happening had they had access to early intervention.

"The amount that is going into facilities and hospitals; I'm very excited to see where that goes, because even in the past week I've been to the hospital six times with six different people who have tried to take their lives.

Mental health advocate Jazz Thornton.
Mental health advocate Jazz Thornton. Photo credit: Facebook

"I had one who had been turned away because there wasn't beds and she didn't seem bad enough, and then 24-hours later she was in ICU in a coma from trying to take her life."

Thornton said early intervention should help other age groups as well as young people.

"The reality is if we want to see our suicide statistics go down then we have to target the largest group," she told Newshub. "Which is actually middle-aged men.

"The early intervention, I think, will hopefully help, because by the looks of it that's across the board - that's for everyone."

Thornton said she agreed with the Government rejecting a suicide reduction target.

"That's saying that if we have 500 suicides per year then that's something we can celebrate, but it's not."

Thornton told Newshub it was up to New Zealanders to do the rest.

"We can sit here, we can point fingers and say 'the Government's not doing enough', but also if we want to have the zero-suicide prevention plan that everyone wants then they have to be the first to put it into action; with their friends, their family, the community - don't be someone who just says it, then doesn't pick up a phone and call a friend."

Health Minister Dr David Clark said it needs to be easier for people to get help early.

The Government is taking mental health seriously, he said.

"We want to make it as easy as possible for people to get support when they need it, which is why we are integrating this new initiative into the health services people use most often like GPs."

The new service will place trained mental health workers in doctors’ clinics, iwi health providers and other health services so that when people seek help it is easy to access and immediately available for those suffering mental health issues.

"By the rollout we expect up to 325,000 people a year will be able to access this new model of primary mental health care."

The new model will see, for example, when a GP identifies a mental health or addiction issue they can physically walk with their patient to a trained mental health worker to talk. The mental health worker will have an ongoing relationship with the person in distress, helping to guide and support their recovery.

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)