Mental health initiatives have been allocated just over $200 million in Budget 2022, but it will not be enough to relieve pressure on a system facing rising numbers of people in psychological distress, says the head of the Mental Health Foundation.
Shaun Robinson, the foundation's chief executive, says any new investment is welcome in a sector that is short-staffed, underfunded and struggling to cope with growing demand.
But the new money announced by Finance Minister Grant Robertson on Thursday amounts to "small bikkies" compared to the scale of the challenges confronting mental health providers across the country, Robinson says.
Budget 2022 allocates $202 million to mental health initiatives, including $100 million to "increase the availability and trial new models of specialist mental health and addiction services to support people with specific needs in targeted areas across the country".
This money for specialist services, revealed earlier in the week by Health Minister Andrew Little, includes $27 million spread over four years for developing support for people experiencing a mental health crisis.
Robinson says it's encouraging that the Government has recognised the need for more support for people in crisis, although the new money is modest compared to the scale of the problem nationally.
Every day, police get hundreds of callouts and hospital emergency departments are inundated because mental health teams are too stretched to deal with the growing numbers of people who are suicidal, self-harming or experiencing acute distress.
"You have to measure the level of investment next to the scale of the need," Robinson says.
Budget 2022 also sets aside $90 million over four years to pay for the expansion of Mana Ake, an initiative to support the wellbeing of children, to schools in five regions.
Mana Ake began in Canterbury to support children in communities affected by the earthquakes. It is in the process of being rolled out in Northland, Counties Manukau, Bay of Plenty, Lakes and West Coast.
Schools in those areas are expected to be offering the services later this year and eventually it will cover 195,000 children in all the regions it operates, the Government says.
This Budget has also allocated $12.3 million for Piki, a programme that provides free psychological therapy for people aged 18 to 25 in Wellington.
The extension was welcomed by the Green Party, which pushed the project.
Chlöe Swarbrick, the Greens' mental health spokesperson, says: "There must continue to be investment in community-based solutions.
"While we welcome this extension of funding under our co-operation agreement, the Greens won't stop until mental health and addiction services are accessible for all who need them."
There is also around $8 million a year to make alcohol and drug treatment courts permanent in Auckland, Waitākere, and Waikato.
Thursday's announcements add to the $1.9 billion for mental health that Labour provided in its initial Wellbeing Budget in 2019.
While Labour has sought to cast itself as the first Government to "take mental health seriously", there is growing frustration that its broad ambitions of transforming wellbeing haven't translated to improvements for thousands of Kiwis with mental illness.
Since 2019, pressure on the sector has continued to grow, compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic. Services across the country are under severe strain, including the DHB-run specialist services that treat the most seriously unwell people.
Last week, a major investigation by the Herald exposed a host of deep-rooted problems caused by years of underinvestment and poor planning by successive governments.
"No government, no matter the political persuasion, has really owned up to the scale of issues around mental health in New Zealand," says Robinson of the Mental Health Foundation.
The specific areas the Government has targeted on mental health in this year's Budget are all worthwhile, Robinson says, but the overall approach is "piecemeal" and inadequate. The sector is still lacking a clear, detailed long-term plan for improvement.