Brooke van Velden: Govt spending billions on mental health care – where has the money gone?

OPINION:

I was out at dinner recently and got talking to the couple at the table next to me, as you do. I asked them, “how’s your year been so far?” The man responded with touching sincerity and said, “It’s been hard. My daughter has an eating disorder and she’s not getting better.” She was struggling with her mental health. He clearly was too.

You never really know what’s going on in someone else’s life. With a few smiles and pleasantries, it’s easy to seem like everything’s okay.

There will be people who’re struggling with their mental health that we’ve never suspected. Colleagues who show great confidence but struggle in silence, or friends who seem busy but their “other plans” mean being unable to get out of bed all weekend.

We can all help by reaching out and checking in with the people we know. Even a simple conversation might pull someone from a dark place that day.

We all know business owners who have undergone stress of lockdowns, grandparents who’ve been isolated and felt extreme loneliness and parents who’re worried about their children missing social interactions over these past two years.

Mental health affects all of us.

It’s tragic that we all know someone who’s attempted suicide. It’s New Zealand’s darkest statistic.

Many people don’t ever seek help. Sadly, good care isn’t there for everybody who does. We need to do better to help people when they are reaching out for support. We need to put people at the heart of mental health and addiction care.

That requires us asking the question: are we getting the best value for our mental health dollar?

Last week, a new report from the Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission showed that over the past five years wait times for mental health services haven’t gone down and wait times for addiction services have become worse.

Three years ago, the Government committed an extra $1.9 billion for mental health over five years. A record amount of money. The Government’s now spending around $1.8 billion each year on mental health and addiction services but we’re not seeing any better outcomes.

It’s shameful. The Government promised to fix mental health. All they’ve done is reinforce what we already knew; the Government sure knows how to waste our money. Billions of it.

The money went out the door, and yet there’s still nothing to show for it. Wait times for mental health services are increasing.

This is the problem with Labour, it loves spending money but it doesn’t make sure that money is targeted, measured and is actually getting results.

The Government’s forgotten to put people first. The $1.9b announced in 2019 could have provided 500,000 Kiwis with six counselling sessions each year for the next five years.

Instead – a total of 304 counselling sessions were provided over 18 months.

What we need is innovative long-term thinking. We need more accountability and better transparency over the money we are spending. We need a practical approach to ensure people are not victims of a disjointed and overly bureaucratic system.

Act has a policy that would give the Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission the power to transform mental health and addiction services by taking the $2b per year currently spent through the Ministry of Health and DHBs, and channelling it to providers and patients through an upgraded commission renamed Mental Health and Addiction New Zealand (MHANZ).

MHANZ would not be a provider of services, but a world-class commissioning agency that assesses individual needs and contracts the best providers for a person’s therapy and care. It would put people at the heart of the system.

MHANZ would ensure that the girl with the eating disorder receives care from providers who understand her needs, that she had ongoing wrap-around support and that her family was supported too. She wouldn’t get just one session of counselling and be sent on her way.

It would ensure that people with critical mental health needs were treated as that – critical, not put on a waiting list for six weeks before they can access help.

We need to do better for everyone who may be ready to reach out for help. We need to be there for them when they do. We need to keep listening to the concerns of New Zealanders and pushing for better solutions to make healthy and thriving communities.

Brooke van Velden, MP, is the deputy leader of the Act Party.

Where to get help:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633 or text 234 (available 24/7)
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (12pm to 11pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 or text 4202 (available 24/7)
Anxiety helpline: 0800 269 4389 (0800 ANXIETY) (available 24/7)
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

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