NZ Election 2020: Greens commit to new Mental Health Minister if elected

The Green Party wants a dedicated Mental Health Minister to address what it describes as a nation on the verge of a crisis. 

The announcement released exclusively on Newshub Nation comes on World Mental Health Day. It is part of a raft of measures the party believes will increase support for Kiwis living with a mental illness. 

Green Party mental health spokeswoman Chloe Swarbrick said a minister dedicated specifically to mental health was crucial to ensuring people got access to timely support. 

The new role would work within the framework of the Ministry of Health and free up the incoming Health Minister to focus on issues of physical health. 

"What is clear is that mental health shouldn't be treated as a subset of the health portfolio. Mental health is on the increase, particularly during the era of COVID-19," Swarbrick told Newshub Nation.

"There hasn't been adequate accountability inside of parliament, inside politics and inside the ministry of health on mental health." 

The Green MP said it was time for politicians to be held to account and shine a light on issues within the mental health system. 

At present Swarbrick said lengthy wait times across New Zealand were putting lives at risk. 

"Right now we know that if you walk into a hospital with a broken arm you are seen almost immediately, whereas if you walk into your GP or the hospital when in crisis, when it comes to mental health, it can take quite a long time to be triaged and seen." 

Ministry of Health figures also showed in the 2018 to 2019 year a total 10,217 people (23.3 percent) seeking treatment for non-acute mental health needs had to wait three weeks or more. 

Meanwhile, 3757 (8.6 percent) had to wait more than three weeks. Swarbrick said it shouldn't take for people to be in the midst of a crisis to get help. 

"We should do everything in our power to stop people getting to crisis point," she said. "When people have a severe mental health condition they need free, quick, quality treatment."

"With the Green Party in Government, we will push DHBs to ensure everyone with acute or severe mental health needs receives attention within three hours, and no one who needs treatment has to wait anywhere near three weeks."

Chloe Swarbrick on Newshub Nation.
Chloe Swarbrick on Newshub Nation. Photo credit: Newshub Nation

As well as the establishment of a new minister dedicated to mental health, the Green Party wants to see DHB mental health funding increased, expanding free counselling to everyone under 25 and improving postnatal mental health services.

It also wants to increase community understanding of mental illness, develop and fund initiatives that improve recovery rates and build wider consensus on policy solutions. 

"We know far too many New Zealanders at present are experiencing extremely stressful circumstances, whether exacerbated by isolation, trauma, the likes of poverty, a sense of hopelessness at times," she said. 

"One of the best ways to address that is through community building, through making sure people have a warm, dry safe home, security of job, all of those kinds of things are fundamentally important."