Mental Health sector in crisis

This article was originally written for and published by Salient, Issue 2 2017

Systemic issues with mental health service provision in New Zealand have been met with calls to review and better resource the system.

The People’s Mental Health Report, published in April, is a crowdfunded and crowdsourced inquiry into the experiences of New Zealanders struggling with the current mental health system, with an aim of including those who are “being left out of the conversation.”

VUWSA President Rory Lenihan-Ikin described the report as “illustrating a system in dire need of a review and funding increase.”

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman announced a five-year national improvement programme for mental health on May 4. It will be funded from DHB baselines at a cost of $7.5 million.

The move has been met with backlash from those who call for a government review of the mental health system. Mental health advocate and comedian Mike King said the government had a poor grasp of mental health spending, and criticised the move to increase funding without determining where money should be allocated.Screen Shot 2017-06-25 at 12.16.18 AM

Kii Small, a VUW commerce student, expressed concern at the way mental health continues to be treated as taboo in our society. “There’s something about old men throwing money at their problems that puts a lot of you at ease. In terms of mental health, English acts out the thoughts of the average New Zealander and decides to not look into the mental health system.”
The Public Services Association (PSA) says the Health Minister has shown a “worrying lack of thought about what’s really needed by our mental health services — and how this crisis will be fixed.”

Mental health remains a pertinent topic at VUW, with confusion and backlash resulting from  recent changes to the VUW Counselling services.

Lenihan-Ikin stressed that the pressures on VUW student counselling “are in large part driven by a complete lack of mental health support in the general public health system. What looks like an under-resourced service is in fact an overloaded one.”

Changes to the VUW system include the provision of an online referral form, and a change to the way counselling sessions are managed. This involves a consideration of what services will best meet students needs after six counselling sessions.

However, poor communication by VUW led students to believe a six-session limit was being implemented. Student Counselling Manager Gerard Hoffman admitted that the communication of the changes was managed poorly, leading to the confusion.

Director of Student Academic Services Pam Thorburn called mental health service “a really challenging and complex issue […] it’s not just about universities. Societies are grappling with this challenge, internationally we are grappling with this challenge.” She stressed that there had been no resource cuts in this area.

“We haven’t changed the sessions — we’ve always had a soft guideline around how many sessions a student had. We were trying to make that transparent — it’s not a hard and fast guideline, but at the end of six sessions we really want to reassess the needs of students… we might not be the best provider to deal with these needs.”

“We would never, ever cut a student off to the services they need. It’s saying: after six sessions, let’s pause, let’s have a think.”

-Siobhan O’Connor



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