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As we mark Mental Health Awareness Week, it is worth revisiting a report earlier this year that highlighted a potential looming crisis in the wake of Covid-19.
The report, from Koi Tu: The Centre for Informed Futures, warned of a "tsunami" of mental health problems for New Zealanders struggling to cope with the effects of the pandemic.
It predicted as many as 40% of Kiwis could be adversely affected, in mental health terms, by Covid-19 for some time, and urged the Government to act quickly to prevent "avoidable psychological damage and suffering".
That came two years after the major New Zealand Health Survey found one in six of us had been diagnosed with a mental disorder (depression, anxiety and bipolar disorders being most common) at some point in our lives; nearly 9% of New Zealand adults had experienced psychological distress in the immediate four weeks before the survey; females, Maori, Pasifika and people living in lower socio-economic areas had higher rates of mental disorders; and about 650,000 adult New Zealanders (16.6%) had been diagnosed with depression at some stage in their lives.
The Government had no choice but to act then — it allocated $1.9billion in the 2019 Budget to improving mental health and addiction services, and followed up with $40million in the 2020 Budget for free mental health services — and we feel it has no choice but to act now.
Covid-19 has had devastating effects on the economy, as we know. Businesses closing and foodbanks struggling to cope with demand and unemployment rising are all proof of that.
But what about the true picture of how this year has affected our collective mental health? How will it be measured? What will be done to address the concerns of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, which only yesterday claimed mental health services "in almost every region are at breaking point"?
The social isolation that alert level restrictions created in large parts of the community will undoubtedly have had a deleterious effect on people’s wellbeing.
There also has to be serious concern that the economic situation, getting a whole lot worse before it gets better, will keep feeding a rising tide of mental health problems. Job losses can lead to stress and poverty.
And in the background is the virus itself, and its far-reaching impact on our lives.
To address all this, the Government and social agencies, naturally, need to lead the way with investment, support, advice and sound policies around dealing with mental health crises.
But there also needs to be a community-centric approach, a team effort, to handle this issue.
Periods of lockdown showed us the value of being kind — not just a platitude from our Prime Minister but an approach to life that has lots going for it — and looking out for each other, as well as ourselves.
That idea of carrying on with some of the tools we used during lockdown is the message from Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson, and we should take heed of his words.
“There is an opportunity now to keep building positive mental health, resilience and wellbeing together. Throughout lockdown we saw people doing incredible things that were good for our whanau, neighbours, communities and country — more kindness, more connection, more physical activity, and taking time to check in on each other’s mental health. People have been actively supported by Government to take action for our wellbeing, and it has worked. We need to hold on to this taonga we created together and find a way to grow it. Don’t stop now.”
The theme of Mental Health Awareness Week this year has been: Reimagine Wellbeing Together — He Tirohanga Anamata.
Wellbeing. Together. Two words that work powerfully in tandem.
It has been a rough year, but we can do this together. We have to, if we want to avoid being swamped by the tsunami.