Supporting rural mental health

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In Oamaru, we’re lucky to have a coalition of organisations like the Safer Waitaki network to support our community’s most vulnerable.

Safer Waitaki works together to improve the mental health and wellbeing of the greater Waitaki region.

The Government inquiry into mental health and addiction, completed last year, recognised that one area where we haven’t had enough support is for everyday ailments like depression and anxiety (and other so-called mild to moderate mental health conditions).

As a society, we’ve left too many of our people on their own coping with mental distress or struggling with drugs and alcohol. For too long, we’ve tackled mental health or addiction only when it becomes a crisis.

No matter where we live in New Zealand, we all know someone affected by mental health issues, suicide or addiction. Often this pain reverberates the furthest in our rural communities.

People in Waitaki are self-sufficient and resilient. But we’ve long known that rural and provincial mental health in areas like ours deserve much greater attention and support.

That’s why we’re rolling out free mental health, addiction and wellbeing support in every community over the next five years. A part of that is funding for 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 how isolated you are.

The 2019 Wellbeing Budget allocated a record $1.9billion towards improving the mental health of New Zealanders, including a new universal mental health service to be rolled out nationwide over the next five years.

This new service will place trained mental health workers in doctors’ clinics, iwi health providers and other health services, so that when people seek help it is easy to access and immediately available for those suffering mental health issues.

For example, when a GP identifies a mental health or addiction issue they can physically walk with their patient to a trained mental health worker to talk. The mental health worker will have an ongoing relationship with the person in distress, helping to guide and support their recovery.

It needs to be easier for people to get help early, before small issues become major problems. Our mental health services must be easy to access, easy to navigate, and they must help people

Improving our mental wellbeing is not just the right thing to do – it makes economic sense.

It’s estimated that in 2014 the economic cost of serious mental illness alone was $12billion, or 5% of GDP.

Current data suggests one-in-five New Zealanders experience mental health and addiction challenges at any given time – this means around 4000 people in Waitaki alone could be struggling today.

We’ve also re-established the Mental Health Commission, now called the Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission, to track our progress on the range of actions we’re taking to tackle the long-term challenge of improving mental healthcare across New Zealand.

We’re taking mental health seriously – this Government is thinking long-term.

The health of rural New Zealand has always been a key part of the country’s wellbeing, and will continue to be for generations to come.

Thriving rural communities benefit all of us, no matter where we live.