Mental health inquiry: Government commits to expanding alcohol and drug support

The Government has announced its response to the mental health inquiry - including agreeing to or considering 38 out of 40 recommendations - after delaying its response twice. 

Among the recommendations the Government has committed to are the expansion of talk therapies, alcohol and other drug (AOD) services and culturally-aligned therapies.

That was expected by mental health experts, such as Max Abbott, who told Newshub last month he expected the response would address the "huge shortfall" in psychological therapy.

The accepted recommendations include establishing an independent commission to provide leadership and oversight of mental health and addiction, and urgently completing the national suicide prevention strategy.

But the Government has chosen to reject setting a target of a 20 percent reduction in suicide rates by 2030, which Newshub revealed earlier this week.

Prime Minster Jacinda Ardern as always said she struggled with the idea because the Government should have zero tolerance to suicide and adopting a target would suggest it tolerates any number.

Health Minister Dr David Clark said the question of a suicide target was considered at length, but said the Government was "not prepared to sign up to a suicide target because every life matters". 

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

Dr Clark said the Ministry of Health is in the process of finalising a draft suicide prevention strategy and is working on options for an office of suicide prevention.

"There are no quick-fixes for these issues. The drivers of mental health and addiction issues are deep seated and long standing, but as a Government we are committed to tackling them."

The Government has also chosen not to direct the State Services Commission to report on options for creating a 'locus of responsibility' for social wellbeing within Government.

"Improving wellbeing should underpin all Government activities, as demonstrated by our approach to the 2019 Wellbeing Budget," the response to that recommendation said.

The financial details of the Government's response will announced tomorrow when the Wellbeing Budget is released.

What's the Government accepted?
 

The inquiry details were released in December last year, revealing a sobering image of mental health in New Zealand, with the Mental Health Act described as "outdated and inadequate".

It found that the annual cost of serious mental illness, including addiction, is an estimated $12 billion. And the estimated reduction in life expectancy of people with severe mental health or addiction challenges is 25 years.

Inquiry recommendations accepted include:

  • Significantly increase access to publicly funded mental health and addiction services for people with mild to moderate needs
  • Commit to increase choice by broadening the types of services available
  • Urgently complete the national suicide prevention strategy
  • Establish an independent commission to provide leadership and oversight of mental health and addiction
  • Repeal and replace the Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992

The Government has agreed to repeal and replace the Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992 as part of its response to the inquiry. 

It said it will also significantly increase access to publicly funded mental health and addiction services for people with mild to moderate needs.

"The Government is committed to the expansion of talk therapies, alcohol and other drug (AOD) services and culturally-aligned therapies," the response says. 

"These types of services are supported by a strong evidence base and will be crucial to improving equity for Māori, as well as Pacific peoples and other population groups that continue to experience poor outcomes."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction - announced by Health Minister David Clark in January 2018 - laid down a challenge to the Government and to all New Zealanders.

"We need to transform our thinking and approach to mental health and addiction - and that is what we are committing to today," she said. 

"We all know people who have lived with mental health and addiction challenges. This touches every community and every family and we must do better."

Last month she defended delaying the Government's response to the inquiry for a second time, saying it would be announced closer to the Budget so the public could see the wider picture of the response. 

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)

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