Cross-party group of MPs formed to advocate for mental health

All parties within Parliament are pledging to work together to improve mental health and wellbeing in New Zealand.

A Mental Health and Addictions Wellbeing cross-party group has been set up to demonstrate politicians' willingness to collective and enduring commitment on the issue.

It is made up of National's Matt Doocey, Labour MP Louisa Wall, Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick, New Zealand First's Jenny Marcroft and ACT leader David Seymour.

There were calls for the group last year which Health Minister David Clark rejected. Later in the year it was a recommendation from He Ara Orangathe report of the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction.

Matt Doocey, National's mental health spokesperson, says the topic needs to be looked at long term and that's what the public wants.

"For me, a lot of this is driven by younger people in New Zealand," he told Newshub. 

"When I was first elected as an MP, an elderly gentleman said to me, 'Don't talk about your mental health career, we don't talk about mental health in New Zealand'. 

"I think he talks of a generation that didn't have a vocabulary to talk about mental health and had a lot of stigma when they talked about it.

"Now we've got a younger generation, they've got the vocabulary to talk about mental health, they don't have the stigma and they're driving politicians to get out there and talk about mental health and address the growing demand of services in New Zealand."

Former All Black John Kirwan and Maori mental health advocate Moe Milne ONZM will help launch the group at Parliament.

Louisa Wall is chair of the Health Select Committee and told Newshub the focus is on wellbeing.

"It's how we deal with stress, how we process life events, challenges and our ability individually, and as families, to be resilient enough to seek help when we need it, but also to know that we're not alone.

"It's incredibly sad and traumatic that we have so many young people that choose suicide. I have an experience, my Youth MP in the last Parliament actually committed suicide. 

"So it's incredibly personal to me and I just think we have to do everything we can to make sure our children, our young people have the tools, so when they're faced with situations that are really challenging, they know they're not alone, that we're there to support them, that they can reach out and be helped."

The latest statistics from the Ministry of Justice show the number of people taking their own lives has jumped to 685 Kiwis in the year from 30 June, compared to 668 the year before. 

There was an increase in the number of young people dying by suicide, particularly in the 15-19 age range (up from 53 to 73) and the 20-24 age range (from 76 to 91).

Chlöe Swarbrick told Newshub her priority is "enduring sustainable solutions that don't oscillate with future changes of Government".

"It's a massive opportunity to finally hopefully facilitate some enduring solutions to the mental ill-health and addiction problems in this country," she said. 

"You know with politicians across the aisle we pretty much agree on all of the problems, we just tend to bicker on how to solve those issues. So when it comes to that, we finally have a forum to be able to be presented with the evidence and hopefully just get on with it."

The Government announced a $1.9 billion investment in improving mental health services in Budget 2019 that included a $445 million package on frontline services and $200 million extra for new and existing facilities.

Jenny Marcroft hopes New Zealanders can see that Parliament can work together on a critical topic. She says she can bring personal experience. 

"We wouldn't do it unless we felt we can expand knowledge right across the Parliament. I think that's primarily a function to bring in really good speakers, hear about people's on the ground experiences, share their knowledge and have that right across Parliament. 

"Upskilling all of us in terms of our knowing and understanding of what's needed to help in our communities."

In July, the Ministry of Health had five workshops across the country with mental health and addiction key players to discuss plans for the new frontline services.

David Seymour says joining the group was a no-brainer.

"It's a positive development and I'm more than happy to support a cross-party group that takes the politics out of it and says there's no political debate or disagreement about the fact that we need to do better with mental health," he said.

Platform Trust will take up the secretariat role on the group.

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