Government pulling funding for Mental Health Foundation's COVID-19 campaign 'doesn't make sense' - CEO

The Government's decision to pull the plug on financial support for the Mental Health Foundation's (MHF) COVID-19 wellbeing campaign in a few months "doesn't make sense", the organisation's CEO says.

State funding for the Getting Through Together campaign, launched last year in an effort to help Kiwis cope with the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, is scheduled to finish in June 2021.

But Shaun Robinson told The AM Show on Tuesday morning measures to boost general wellbeing, which were for a time promoted on a New Zealand-wide scale, are needed well beyond then.

"We started in the COVID-19 lockdowns - it's the first time we've really promoted those kinds of behaviours of connecting with one another, looking out for your neighbours, making sure you're doing some exercise every day, doing things to keep your mind active," he said.

"All of those kinds of things, which are simple but actually work to boost your wellbeing, we started doing that on a national level. Trouble is, we're now tailing it off; the resources to help us support that end in June, which just does not make sense at all."

The comments come just a week after a study commissioned by the MHF was released, which found a quarter of New Zealanders - 1.25 million of us - have poor levels of mental and emotional wellbeing after nearly a year of living through the COVID-19 pandemic.

That rose to almost a third for Kiwi women, who are most at-risk of developing poor mental health alongside those with an annual income of less than $50,000, under-35s and Pasifika people.

Robinson says international research has proven that people's mental health actually initially improves during COVID-19 lockdowns due to a sense of camaraderie, but worsens over time "when you realise the world's never going to be the same again".

In an effort to resist lockdown's effects, the Mental Health Foundation launched its Getting Through Together campaign with funding from the Government, which promoted tools and tips to improve wellbeing.

Data shows it worked; the campaign reached more than a third of adults, of whom 58 percent said they were empowered to take action for their wellbeing as a result. Data shows the campaign was particularly effective among Māori and Pasifika communities.

However funding will come to an end in June - something Robinson last week said represents a "short-sighted waste of investment and a missed opportunity to build long-term positive mental wellbeing".

He's calling on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Minister of Health Andrew Little to commit to a "true transformation" of New Zealand's mental wellbeing.

In 2019's Budget, the Government showed its commitment to turning New Zealand's mental health record around when it allocated $1.9 billion to improving mental health and addiction services. The following year, it promised a further $40 million to fund free mental health services.

But Robinson says nothing has been done to raise the baseline of Kiwis' wellbeing, an issue that has been laid bare during our last year with the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Not $1 has been thrown at promoting and building people's resilience at a population level," he said.

"The approach that the Government's taking to mental health at the moment is a bit like - if we'd done it with COVID-19 - it'd be like trying to get a GP to go out and wash everyone's hands for them, rather than teaching them how to wash their hands.

"We want the investment - just a small fraction, $15 million out of $1.5 billion [spent on mental health each year before Budget 2019] - and we could turn that 25 percent around over the next four or five years."

The Mental Health Foundation-commissioned study is another confirmation of New Zealand's poor mental health record.

The 2015-2018 Mental Health Monitor and 2018 Health and Lifestyles Survey found almost one-third of people in New Zealand have a personal experience of mental distress, with Māori and young adults aged 18 to 24 years at higher rates.

Data released by Chief Coroner Deborah Marshall last year showed 654 people had died from suicide in the year to June 2020.