Mental health care deteriorating

Emma Simmers
Emma Simmers
Being in a mental health ward can be a challenging experience, especially when the system is under strain. Health reporter Eileen Goodwin spoke to Emma Simmers about her recent experience, and looks at wider pressures and the political response.

Being labelled a "left-wing anti-government" protester for taking a prominent role in a mental health campaign is ironic as he benefits financially from people being locked out of the system, psychotherapist Kyle MacDonald says.

Despite dismissing the campaigner-led People’s Mental Health Review, the Government has scrambled to respond to public concern with announcements, a claimed Budget boost, and talk of  new internet therapies.

Mr MacDonald, of Auckland, is unimpressed.

"Cynically, what I think they are trying to do is get to the election.

Kerry Hand.
Kerry Hand.

"The minister can dismiss it all he likes but I think the reason the public have gotten on board is because we are describing a picture that lots of people see as familiar," he told the Otago Daily Times.

Under current funding trends, services would deteriorate further, which was "frankly, a bit terrifying".

The much-heralded May Budget boost was not an increase in real terms, he said.

His private practice benefited from people who could not access the public system.

"Perversely, I am trying to put myself out of a job [through the campaign]."

Kerry Hand, who manages Dunedin needs assessment agency Miramare, said people increasingly needed to be in a crisis to get help.

He said a mental health worker in another part of the country advised a person who was moving to Dunedin to ring the police once they got there and say they were suicidal to get back into the system.

Services were run on a "big corporation model" and were too bureaucratic and hospital-based, Mr Hand said.

Brad Strong.
Brad Strong.

Patients are "all the time being seen as a new person", having to tell their story again.

He said the Southern District Health Board had been in planning mode for more than a decade to shift  funding into community mental health, but its plans never seemed to take shape.

Help and co-ordination provided to patients being discharged from hospital had deteriorated in the past 10 years, he said.

Discharge planning is important because it reduces pressures on inpatient wards, and helps people settle in the community.

Southern DHB’s top mental health doctor, Brad Strong, has been unusually outspoken about the problems, but is not giving interviews now.

A spokeswoman said he was "not keen" to speak to the ODT for this article, and last month an interview was cancelled at short notice.

Last year, Dr Strong said he supported calls for a national mental health review, and said suicide prevention was not the priority it should be.

Emma Simmers, who spoke out about her recent experience, said she was pleased the spotlight was on mental health.

"People are being  Band-Aided out of hospital and then promptly end up back in there."

A major shortcoming was support for people to find work and to live. 

People with mental health conditions faced discrimination from potential employers.

They had to survive on the benefit while trying to remain confident and hopeful, Miss Simmers  said.

This week Prime Minister Bill English told Newstalk ZB more help could be provided via the internet.

"I have to say I was a bit sceptical, but all the experts tell us it is as effective as face-to-face, dealing with young people with anxiety and depression,"
Mr English told the station.

In May, Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman labelled Mr MacDonald and other campaigners left-wing and anti-government.

In a statement to the ODT, Dr Coleman reiterated previous assurances the system was working.

"Overall the sector provides high-quality mental health services for New Zealanders."

The Government was responding to increasing demand with more funding and new ideas.

"Funding for mental health and addiction services across New Zealand has steadily increased from $1.1billion in 2008-09 to around $1.4billion for 2016-17."

Dr Coleman said he would take a paper to Cabinet soon outlining  initiatives.



The sobriquet 'left wing and anti government' might see Kyle MacDonald with more clients than he would usually expect.