Mental health support now available through GPs

Here to help . . . Health improvement practitioner Margi Bryant has recently began working in three Waitaki general practices. PHOTO: NIC DUFF

North Otago now has access to qualified mental health support from general practices.

WellSouth’s Toku Oranga health improvement practitioners began working in Dunedin in late 2020 and have recently begun working in the Waitaki District.

They are qualified and registered health professionals, with experience in the mental health sector, and their role is to be available to support patients who need help on the day.

They are not counsellors, but help patients identify what is standing in the way of progress, and offer them help to take steps to move forward.

Margi Bryant began working as a practitioner early last month and is now at three practices in the region, Te Kaika Oamaru, South Hill Medical and Kurow Medical Centre.

She said she provides a little bit of help to a lot of people.

‘‘I’m a generalist. I’m here to help [people] find some way forward, maybe give them some tools and a little plan to carry forward, but if they need professional mental health care, they could be referred to a counsellor.’’

Toku Oranga (Access and Choice) is a primary mental health and addiction service in the southern region. As part of a national initiative, it places qualified mental health practitioners in general practices, making it faster and easier to access care.

WellSouth Mental Health clinical services manager Jodie Black said with the success of the initial services offered, it was hoping to expand further in the coming year.

‘‘Eight health improvement practitioners joined general practices in August 2020, and in just over two years, there are more than 26 in 37 practices throughout Otago and Southland.’’

Last week was Mental Health Awareness Week in New Zealand.

Ms Bryant said the week helped highlight that mental health was just as important as physical health.

‘‘We all have mental health [problems], it’s just we have it in various times of life, we have it in varying degrees, and we need help.

‘‘I think it helps raise awareness that it’s OK to not be OK.’’