Pressure is building for the Government to launch an independent inquiry into the mental health sector in the wake of a damning new report.
The People's Mental Health Review report, released today, canvassed 500 people who have either accessed or worked within mental health services in New Zealand.
Almost 95 per cent of those surveyed had negative experiences of the sector and shared stories of inappropriately long wait times, an over-reliance on medication and an under-resourced, stressed workforce.
"In a number of stories people expressed concern that they couldn't get the help they needed until their health had deteriorated to the point of crisis," said ActionStation, the community campaign group behind the survey.
The report recommended urgent funding increases, rolling out mental health education programmes across the country and the reinstatement of the Mental Health Commissioner, to provide independent oversight of the sector.
It also added to recent calls for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the provision of mental health services - a request made by both the Parents of Children with Additional Needs Collective and the Aotearoa Students' Alliance just last week.
Ministry of Health spokesman Dr John Crawshaw welcomed the review as part of the open dialogue which helped ensure better health outcomes for New Zealand.
He said there are an increased number of people accessing specialist mental health and addiction services, that was consistent with international trends.
"While this reflects that more New Zealanders are seeking and receiving mental health care, which is positive, we do also acknowledge that services are experiencing increasing pressure."
Crawshaw said that there had already been an increase in funding. Since 2008/09 the country's 20 DHBs mental health expenditure had increased by over $300 million from $1.1 billion to $1.4 billion.
He explained that the funding was ring-fenced which meant that each DHB has discretion over where it allocates funding and increase its allocation to mental health, but it cannot spend less than the previous year.
Marianne Elliott, author of the report and director of strategy at ActionStation, said: "The stories in this review show there are entrenched problems in the ways we think about and respond to people experiencing mental distress in this country.
People described being treated in ways that were dismissive, dehumanising and punitive and felt they had no say or power over their own treatment.
Elliott explained at a press conference this afternoon that many submissions included people who "were effectively told 'you're not sick enough' if they weren't suicidal". This led to some waiting up to three months for help.
Police are called out to 90 mental-health-related incidents every 24 hours, Elliott said. The resources other sectors, like Police, spent on the repercussions of mental health issues was a good argument any additional funding would be an investment, she said.
Professor Max Abbott, dean of the Auckland University of Technology Faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences, said the new report "adds weight to the call for a formal review or inquiry into our mental health services".
Abbott said that the life expectancy for those with a serious mental disorder is unacceptably 20 years less than the average.
In light of the report's release, the family of 21-year-old Nicky Stevens who died while in the compulsory care of the Waikato District Health Board in 2015 renewed their plea for the Government to conduct an inquiry into the state of the country's mental health services.
"The failure of mental health services in New Zealand is an issue that has got on top of the Government and will be an election issue that comes back to bite them hard," said Stevens' father, Dave Macpherson.
Mike King also spoke in support at the press conference. He wanted to create a society where having problems is normalised and opening up a culture where kids can talk about them.
"A large amount of young people are experiencing suicidal ideation but 80 per cent of those kids aren't asking for help."
The report, which is non-scientific, has also been supported by the Public Service Association (PSA), which claims workers are frustrated they can't help Kiwis falling through the cracks.
PSA national secretary Erin Polaczuk said the Government had "ignored pleas by front-line mental health staff to fix our broken mental health system urgently".
"But it will be difficult for the Prime Minister to ignore the problem now," she added.
ActionStation has invited the public to sign an open letter calling on the Government to implement the recommendations made in the report.
The People's Mental Health Review was a grassroots initiative, crowd-funded by ActionStation. It made an open call for people who had experienced the mental health system to share their stories online.
It received more than 500 responses, with more than half coming from people who had attempted to access or accessed mental health services and 78 from people who had worked within the sector.
The report was prompted and supported by psychotherapist Kyle MacDonald and suicide prevention campaigner and television presenter Mike King.
I lost a daughter in 2002 to suicide.
She had tried to get help for many years and was 38 when she died. It was very difficult to understand what the problem was until after her death.
As she was an adult, no one helped her family by explaining what her difficulties were. I wrote to the mental health team after her death and said that there might have been a different outcome if we could have all worked together as is possible when someone has a medical illness. I received an apology on the day she died as she had phoned the crisis team, but as it was on a Sunday, no one rang her back until it was too late.
What I find very hard now is to hear stories that indicate families are still not included enough in the team to support someone with mental health problems, when the person wants that to happen. This doesn't happen when a family member has a physical illness.
When I was 15, I started to feel depressed and had suicidal thoughts. Luckily, I had supportive parents who helped me as soon as they could. They made me see a school counsellor and ask to be referred to the mental health service for youth in Auckland.
I was taken in and had an initial appointment. In this initial appointment, I was told by the staff (after being diagnosed with severe depression by my doctor) that I did not have a problem because I did not self harm.
Unfortunately, this resulted in me self harming, and five years later, I am still struggling with these same issues while now having to go through a private psychologist, which is hard and expensive on my parents, and me as a student.
My 14-year-old sister developed depression after my father had a mental breakdown and had a two-week stint in hospital. She was completely suicidal, not coming out of her room, unable to go to school, she would spend the whole day in bed in the dark. She wouldn't eat anything and would say things like she was having thoughts that she should "drink bleach".
My parents called all the health services they could to get help but all had at least a two-week waiting list. Suicidal people cannot wait two weeks. They need help right then. The public mental health system in this country is in dire need of funding, young people are taking their own lives and the Government is sitting and watching.
After we had exhausted all options my parents took her to the hospital and she was admitted to a crisis service - which was amazing for the first few months but the appointments became sporadic because of sickness on the counsellor's part and she stopped going (probably due to being overworked). She is okay now, thank God. But I cannot imagine what would have happened if my parents weren't more proactive and had not taken her to hospital.
What about children whose parents don't know? What happens to them? And we wonder why the suicide rate is so high. Please, Government, take action for our youth. We cannot lose any more of our precious future.
Read more stories here.
Where to find help:
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• 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)
• Canterbury Support Line: 0800 777 846
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.