Mental health policy focused on prevention

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Everyone knows someone who’s affected by mental health challenges.

At any given time, one in five New Zealanders will experience mental distress or addiction challenges (or both) – this means that in the Waitaki region, there will likely be around 4200 people struggling right now.

We’ve also long known that rural mental health deserves much greater attention and support. Often the pain caused by mental health issues, suicide or addiction reverberates the furthest in rural communities.

That’s why we’re taking mental health seriously. In our first 100 days of government, I announced an inquiry into mental health and addiction.

This inquiry heard from thousands of New Zealanders up and down the country.

It produced a serious and thoughtful report with 40 significant recommendations.

In the recent Wellbeing Budget, we responded to the report and announced investment in much-needed support for mental health and addiction issues across New Zealand.

Our response will mean every New Zealander can access free and immediate help, when and where they need it.

For some, it might mean that when they tell their GP they’re having a tough time, they can get help from a mental health worker right there at the clinic.

Others might seek help at a local community health centre, or elsewhere.

For people with greater needs, it might mean a series of appointments with a mental health worker, an ongoing relationship with a support worker, and introductions to specialist services as a person needs them.

We’re also funding digital and telehealth services, which will make a real difference in rural communities. This is about making support immediately available with an internet or phone connection, no matter where you are.

We’re doing things differently, because we know that preventing a crisis is better than trying to solve one. We’re investing in early intervention: in the long run, it saves people pain and it also saves the public money. In 2014, it was estimated that the economic cost of serious mental illness alone was $12 billion, or 5% of gross domestic product (GDP).

Importantly, the government’s plan means an end to the old mental health system. It was often said our old system focused on being an ambulance at the bottom of a cliff – only helping those who were already in crisis, rather than also helping prevent people from reaching that point.

Of course, it takes time to roll out a programme this transformative. We need to provide extra training to the medical professionals and peer support workers who’ll do the work. We need to make sure the facilities are available. And we need to let everyone know where to come for help. That’s why this programme will continue to be expanded over the coming years until it covers everyone.

By taking mental health seriously, we’ll unlock even more potential right here in the Waitaki. Thriving rural communities benefit all of us, no matter where we live. I’m proud to be part of this government, which is tackling New Zealand’s long-term challenges – and placing priority on our country’s future wellbeing.