Sometimes in politics, and in advocacy roles, you run the risk of becoming so fixated on the story you want to tell, that the facts become distorted to suit what you want to say. Or worse, you rely on selected facts to make your case.
I think National list MP Dr Shane Reti fell into this trap last week when he tried to argue there has been a significant increase in admissions to hospital for self-inflicted harm.
Today New Zealanders are more aware of the need to look after our mental health. One of the challenges this government is confronting is the need to invest more into our long-neglected mental health services. There is plenty we can debate about mental health support, but it's not helpful to alarm and mislead to score political points.
Dr Reti tried to argue more people have been admitted to hospital for intentional self-harm since the pandemic began. But he skipped data from relevant years to show a rising trend but if he had plotted the data correctly it would have shown no increase in hospitalisations over the time period.
If the figures he showed had taken into account population growth and were represented as a rate (i.e. incidence of reported self-harm per 100,000 of population) then it is more likely the figures would have shown a decline.
There is no question lockdowns and other measures used to limit the spread of Covid-19 have affected the mental health of many New Zealanders, especially our rangatahi. School closures, disruption to sport and social activities means the pandemic has been particularly challenging for them.
This government takes the need to improve our mental health services seriously. Following a wide-ranging review in 2018, we made the single biggest mental health investment in our country's history in Budget 2019. Part of that $1.9 billion package, to be spent over four years, was put towards filling the biggest gap identified by the review - frontline services for people experiencing mild to moderate mental health issues.
To date there are around 600 new frontline roles in about 300 GP practices nationwide with more to come. These mental wellbeing and addiction support services are available to about two million people if needed. In Northland 19 practices provide these supports.
There are 250 new roles in Maori, Pacific and youth-specific services.
In response to the pandemic more support was needed. In 2020, the government invested $15-million in psycho-social supports directly related to the effects of Covid. Auckland and Northland rangatahi were some of the hardest hit by lockdowns so we further invested $5.6-million to support them.
Northland now has more counsellors in primary schools and since late 2021 it's been one of five regions we've been working with for the planned introduction of the Mana Ake programme. Mana Ake helps children deal with stress and distress, and was highly successful in schools after the Canterbury earthquakes. Northland will benefit from both Mana Ake and the Counsellors in Schools programme.
Mental health and addiction services must remain a priority in our broader health services. Let's hope we don't repeat past mistakes to ensure this vital support continues to strengthen our communities.
Where to get help:
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youth services: (06) 3555 906
• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
• Helpline: 1737
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.