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‘‘Take time to korero/ma te korero, ka ora’’ is the theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week.

As the Mental Health Foundation website tells us, ‘‘ a little chat can go a long way’’.

The emphasis for the week is about connecting with people in our lives and ‘‘creating space for conversations about mental health and wellbeing’’.

As the foundation points out, it is the little everyday conversations we have which can be surprisingly important, making a big difference to our mental health.

This will be more relevant than ever, given the physical isolation from everyday interactions during lockdown. The Covid-19

pandemic, with its combination of stress and uncertainty has understandably had a huge impact on the mental wellbeing of many, and digital mental health services have been in
high demand.

In recent years there has been increasing awareness about mental health issues and people prepared to speak out about their own struggles to help understanding and lessen stigma.

This raised awareness and openness has increased demand for our mental health services and highlighted their inadequacy.

Those keen to see major improvements in the way we address mental health in New Zealand could be forgiven for thinking there has been too much official korero and that much chat has not gone very far.

It is now almost three years since the publication of the He Ara Oranga report of the government inquiry into mental health and addiction with its recommendations for transforming the approach to prevent problems developing, to respond earlier and more effectively, and promote mental health and wellbeing.

In 2019, the Government allocated $1.9 billion over four years to mental health and addiction services, but there has been concern at the lack of cohesion about the way funding has been allocated and the snail’s pace of capital spending. In June it was revealed only 6% of $438.3 million from Budget 2018 and 2019 for building and refurbishing mental health facilities had been spent.

Health Minister Andrew Little has also played down the impact on progress of mental health leadership changes in the Ministry of Health.

It was only last week the Government produced a 10-year plan to improve mental health outcomes with an external oversight group to keep it on track, headed by former journalist and equal opportunities commissioner Judy McGregor.

Hard on its heels came the release of the midterm review of the 2019 mental health package which described progress on four of 14 initiatives as mixed. In one area, expanding and enhancing school-based services, data on the implementation progress was not routinely collected so no assessment could be made as to which schools have nurses, and how many students were covered and accessing services.

There is much room for improvement although quick fixes are not realistic as far as building new facilities and increasing the overburdened mental health workforce are concerned.

Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson estimates it could be at least another decade before the country comes out of what he calls the mental health crisis.

And it is not just about improving services. We can all play a part.

He suggests the Government should have a Covid-19-like response to mental health issues.

Instead of reminders about mask wearing and vaccinations, it could be promoting us connecting with one another and empowering communities to support each other, and how we might improve or maintain our own wellbeing.

Taking time to korero needs to be more than a one-week wonder.


It is more a call to be alongside people. They may be alone. Topics of conversation are not the point.