Warning: This article discusses mental health problems and suicide.
The way mental health was used by the National Party in the Andrew Falloon saga was "not acceptable", the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) says, and warns it shouldn't be used as a political weapon or shield.
Falloon announced his resignation on Monday before it was revealed he sent unsolicited explicit images to a 19-year-old. It was later discovered there were three more young women who'd received similar lewd photos.
He then left Parliament effective immediately on Tuesday after pressure from National leader Judith Collins.
Falloon spoke about mental health and suicide openly and frequently as an MP, but didn't mention his own mental health until his resignation.
"Unfortunately, recently, another friend took their own life, which has brought back much unresolved grief," he said in his resignation statement on Monday.
"Recent events have compounded that situation and reminded me of the need to maintain my own health and wellbeing… I have again been receiving counselling."
There are now questions over whether he should've mentioned his mental health while resigning.
"There was the overlay of a personal health issue, which I don't think in this circumstance is terribly appropriate," National deputy leader Gerry Brownlee says.
Both Falloon and Collins released statements pointing almost exclusively to his state of mental wellbeing. MHF says that was wrong.
"Initially, no, I don't think that was a very appropriate use of mental health," MHF chief executive Shaun Robinson says.
"That use of mental health as a political shield or a political excuse - that is not acceptable."
National's mental health spokesperson Matt Doocey was sent to the airport to pick Falloon up and ensure he got home safely.
"He was clearly upset… He was clearly very concerned about that situation," Doocey says.
Before becoming an MP, Doocey worked in mental health. He says he has concerns about Falloon's mental well-being, but that shouldn't guard him from the consequence of his actions.
"We should not be using mental health as an excuse - it's not a shield," Doocey says.
"Mental distress should not be an excuse in politics," Robinson says.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says anything that creates prejudice or stereotypes is "really unhelpful".
Falloon has faced consequences for his actions. On Tuesday he was dropped as an ambassador by charity White Ribbon, which aims to prevent domestic violence.
"It's really behavior that's completely inappropriate as a White Ribbon ambassador," White Ribbon campaign manager Rob McCann says.
Former National MP Jami-Lee Ross also cited mental health issues during his explosive exit from the National Party, and former National leader Todd Muller referred to his health in his resignation statement too.
MHF is warning politicians not to abuse the genuine concern Kiwis have for mental health
"[If you] somehow use it either as a political weapon to put other people down or as an excuse to get off bad decisions or poor behaviour - that's not okay," Robinson says.
If mental health is used as an excuse for bad behaviour, he says it's demeaning to those with long-term mental health issues to suggest they shouldn't be held to the same standard - and that can stigmatise it further.
Where to find help and support:
- Shine (domestic violence) - 0508 744 633
- Women's Refuge - 0800 733 843 (0800 REFUGE)
- Need to Talk? - Call or text 1737
- What's Up - 0800 WHATS UP (0800 942 8787)
- Lifeline - 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland
- Youthline - 0800 376 633, text 234, email email@example.com or online chat
- Samaritans - 0800 726 666
- Depression Helpline - 0800 111 757
- Suicide Crisis Helpline - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
- Shakti Community Council - 0800 742 584