Cheap booze is a cause of depression and aid to suicide and there is a pressing need to rethink its availability and price, the Government has been told by the Prime Minister's chief science adviser.
The advice from Sir Peter Gluckman has been released after the Government announced 17 new mental health initiatives, including to build resilience in preschoolers and "e-therapy" for young people and prisoners.
Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman has faced pressure over mental health services, after a series of critical reports and vows from the Opposition to overhaul support.
Announcing the new measures, he said they would help put care in New Zealand "ahead of the curve", as social media and other aspects of modern life put more pressure on young people.
"All governments have to start doing things differently."
While much of the focus of the new initiatives is on improving resilience and decision-making, none of the 17 new initiatives specifically address the role of alcohol in suicide and depression.
That is despite Gluckman's advice that a re-evaluation of alcohol in society is urgently needed.
"There is a pressing need for us to reorder our thinking about alcohol use - because excessive and inappropriate use are both symptoms of and causes of mental disorder - as well as illicit drug use for the same reasons," Gluckman wrote in the July 28 advice.
"We need to re-evaluate all aspects of how these are viewed and handled in our society including availability, social acceptability, behaviour, social licence and price: all are central to any rethink/revitalisation of mental health policy."
Coleman told the Herald that he had personally voted for the drinking age to increase to 20, and the Government had previously looked at the availability of alcohol.
"There's no intention to revisit this at this point. I'm confident that this $100 million, wide-ranging package will make a real difference to the youth of New Zealand."
The Herald recently ran a five-week series called Break the Silence, looking at why New Zealand has the highest teen suicide rate in the developed world and the second highest youth (25 and under) rate.
It highlighted 10 potential solutions, including reducing access to alcohol, given that half of young people who die by suicide in New Zealand have alcohol in their blood stream.
Other suggested solutions, such as building resilience in children, screening of young people for mental health issues, the development of e-therapy and upskilling the workforce, are touched on by the new government initiatives.
The $100m social investment fund was previously announced as part of Budget 2017. The initiatives now confirmed broadly cover four groups: a school-based package, primary and community mental health care, distance and e-therapy, and initiatives to build an "evidence based approach" in the New Zealand context.
The latter will include interviews with "hard-to-find" groups including the homeless and transient populations.
The new mental health initiatives include:
• A pilot to help develop "internal self-regulatory skills" for 3 and 4-year-olds, and the development of a universal screening approach to identify mental health issues in school students.
• More e-therapy or online therapy options for young people, and for prisoners aged under 25.
• New programmes to ensure follow-up support for people who attempt suicide, and to identify people at risk of suicide when they interact with police, ambulance services and emergency departments.
• The expansion of primary and community mental health and addiction care, including for people whose needs aren't easily managed by GPs but who don't meet the threshold for specialist services.
• Support for people experiencing or at risk of acute mental health crisis to find rental accommodation and keep it.
WHERE TO GET HELP:
If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call 111.
If you need to talk to someone, the following free helplines operate 24/7:
DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757
LIFELINE: 0800 543 354
NEED TO TALK? Call or text 1737
SAMARITANS: 0800 726 666
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 or text 234
There are lots of places to get support. For others, click here.