NZ's mental health sector needs double the resources - expert

A mental health and addiction expert says there needs to be a "doubling of resources" to meet the country's needs.

Professor Max Abbott, dean of the Faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences at AUT, made the call in an interview with Newshub Nation during Mental Health Awareness Week.

"There are signs of gaps, cracks, chasms, all over the place. I think we're looking at almost a doubling of resources," he said.

Prof Abbott wants mental health care to become part of the primary care system, so it's as easy to see a psychologist or other mental health professional as it is to see a GP.

"In the university, we have [a similar number of] mental health professionals alongside doctors, nurses, physios and some other health professionals. To do that throughout the community, you're talking about a lot of money.

"While a huge resource hike is required, it will be a good investment. In addition to enhancing mental and physical health the extra costs will be more than offset by reduced expenditure on prescription drugs, the criminal justice system, benefit payments and enhanced work productivity."  

Housing costs, low wages, increased inequality, loneliness and isolation are some of the factors Prof Abbott believes are behind the 71 percent increase in New Zealanders seeking mental health and addiction services over the past decade.

"There's also the issue of having ready access to services. A lot of people don't receive services when they need them, due to long waiting lists," he said.

"I don't want to over dramatise the negatives. Around 80 percent of the people who access services rate them as satisfactory, they'd recommend them to other people.

"However, there are 20 percent who aren't, and many people don't access services."

Prof Abbott believes the Government's current Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry could lead to the biggest overhaul of the health system since the first Labour Government in the 1930s.

"I'm very pleased that review is as wide-ranging as it is - it's timely to take stock right across the system.

"The proof of the pudding will be what happens subsequently."

Prof Abbott says it could take up to 20 years to create the full range of services that are needed.

The Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry is expected to report back to the Government at the end of next month.

Newshub Nation.

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)

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