More beds less important for mental health than investment in housing, welfare - Mental Health Commission chair

  • 08/12/2021

The chair of the Government's recently formed Mental Health Commission says improving the country's wellbeing is a much "longer game" than simply spending money to make more beds available. 

Instead, Hayden Wano says "it's investing in health, it's investing in housing, it's investing in welfare".

Earlier this year it was reported the Government's record levels of investment into mental health services had resulted in just five extra beds being made available - beds also requiring suitable space and staffing. 

Health Minister Andrew Little in June said he was "extraordinarily frustrated" the $1.9 billion package didn't appear to be increasing access to acute services on the front lines, with much of it apparently left unspent

The commission on Wednesday released the Te Rau Tira Wellbeing Outcomes Report 2021, its second since forming in February. It sets a "baseline" that is "probably not a surprise for many", he told The AM Show on Wednesday.

"What we've tried to do with this report is actually position it in a different way - to actually identify through the framework we've been using to work with people with lived experience, to live with communities, to work with whanau around what wellbeing is about.

"Rather than a system look, it's really from the community, from the people who have used the system."

While it concluded "most communities in Aotearoa New Zealand tend to experience good wellbeing, most of the time", a "concerningly large minority of people and communities experience persistently poor wellbeing". 

It didn't cover the current lack of beds, being based - as Wano admitted - on data from 2018 and earlier, before the mental health inquiry began and prior to the 2019 'Wellbeing' Budget, which allocated more money to mental health. 

Wano said he wasn't sure if the bed situation had improved since the reports in June.

"I don't think the question is about more beds - five more beds is not going to make the difference here. We know the system's been under pressure, and it has been under pressure for some time…

"The commission has taken its priorities from the people that have spoken and have contributed to the inquiry, and we continue to. We're working closely with people with lived experience, with communities, with whanau. That's where we're taking our direction from. 

"It is a long game - this isn't going to be turned around by just purely more money and more services. It is a longer game… We're providing advice to the Government on the best way to do that. The Government is investing on many fronts - it's investing in health, it's investing in housing, it's investing in welfare. 

"What we're saying also is rather than take a single-lane approach to each of those areas, we as a commission would like to see a stronger overarching approach into how the Government invests into health and wellbeing because we know those other determinants are more critical over time than specifically about access to services." 

The commission's first report, released in October, found primary mental health and addiction services are rolling out "as planned", but "the rollout of Kaupapa Māori, Pacific, and Youth services is behind what was intended by now".

Where to find help and support: 

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  • Shakti Community Council - 0800 742 584