NZ Election 2020: National wants new Mental Health Minister, promises '100,000 free counselling sessions'

National's mental health spokesperson Matt Doocey.
National's mental health spokesperson Matt Doocey. Photo credit: Facebook / Matt Doocey

The National Party wants to establish a new Mental Health Minister to drive its $179 million policy which includes a promise of urgently funding 100,000 free counselling sessions in the wake of COVID-19. 

If elected to power, National is promising to set up a $10 million mental health support package for small businesses where mental health has been identified as a concern, because large businesses often have access to employee assistance programmes. 

National would commit to a nationwide goal of 'zero suicides', something Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has avoided, and it would require schools to deliver a skills-based mental health and resilience training programme from years one to 13.

National is promising to "urgently fund 100,000 free counselling sessions" to respond to the "growing mental distress caused by COVID-19", by using $11 million in unspent mental health funding announced in Budget 2019. 

The Government pumped $1.9 billion into mental health last year, but there are concerns the money isn't getting out the door fast enough, and last month two of New Zealand's mental health units were found to be in breach of United Nations guidelines.  

"The impact of COVID-19 has exacerbated this with more New Zealanders struggling with unemployment and an economic recession," National's mental health spokesperson Matt Doocey said on Monday. 

"Labour promised big on mental health but have failed to deliver, only being able to spend seven percent of the funding they announced for mental health and only equipping four percent of general practitioners with new frontline services."

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said last week the money put into mental health is still being rolled out and that it will "ramp up" over time. 

"That was obviously a programme that rolled out over an extended period. The first numbers for the 2019/2020 Budget year had about $44 million in it and significantly ramps up through the financial year that we're in now and the next two after that," he told Magic Talk. 

"One of the big issues we had was the need to train our mental health workforce and we knew we needed about 1600 extra people to be able to provide the services, but they are rolling out."

Robertson said he is "particularly proud" of the $10 million pilot programme started in 2018 to make counselling free for all under-25s, a key promise Labour made to the Greens in its confidence and supply arrangement.  

"That's now spreading out to different regions around the country," Robertson said.

The Government has invested in mental health in the wake of COVID-19, with former Health Minister David Clark announcing a further $40 million in April into 100 free mental health and addiction services. 

Before the pandemic hit, the Government had commissioned a ministerial inquiry into mental health services. It found the annual cost of serious mental illness was an estimated $12 billion, and recommended implementing a national suicide prevention strategy. 

The Government responded by setting up the Suicide Prevention Office, committing to expanding alcohol and drug support, and plans to establish a Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission by 2021.  

National's mental health policy is costed at $179 million, and the most expensive part of it - $63 million - is on methamphetamine addiction treatment. 

National's plan to stamp out meth has already been announced, and it included introducing a 'Matrix' rehab programme developed in the United States, and cracking down on drug "kingpins" by funding more technology intelligence. 

Establishing a Mental Health Minister isn't the only new ministerial position National has proposed. It also wants a Minister for Technology, revealed as part of its tech policy

You can read National's overall health policy here.

National's other mental health promises:


  • Invest in a $10 million contestable fund to establish free psychological first aid training
  • Fund mental wellbeing and suicide prevention workshops in our rural communities
  • Put a primary care navigator in every general practice
  • Fund a study of children and young people to understand the context and conditions underpinning the mental health of youth.

    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 or online chat
    • Samaritans - 0800 726 666
    • Depression Helpline - 0800 111 757
    • Suicide Crisis Helpline - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)