It's pleasing to see mental health back in the spotlight. Pleasing because, like it or not, we're all going to be affected by it at some stage of our lives.

The stats tell us half of all New Zealanders will experience a mental health diagnosis in their lifetime - and even if you don't have direct contact with a diagnosis, you can bet there will be a bucketload of people who are suffering around you, who remain undiagnosed.

The stats also tell us that demand for mental health services has increased by 71 percent over the past decade. I guess we can point to the obvious factors here: family violence, anxiety, addiction, unemployment - but if there's a positive to that statistic, it's that more people are prepared to ask for help.

Destigmatising mental health is an enormous and ongoing challenge for this country, and though it feels like we're making inroads in this area, we still have a long way to go. One of the keys to that is recognising it can strike anyone.


Mental illness does not discern between rich and poor, happy or sad, well or unwell. Alongside debunking mental health, of course, is providing access, getting services to people early, looking to plug the gaps. Who's missing out and why?

For those who are seeking help, what's the quality of the services being provided? In my own experience of these services within my own family, the quality of the service is paramount. It has to be good. It has to be informed, professional and helpful.

Staff training must be meticulously thought through. It is not enough to just throw around the words 'access' and 'services' without making sure they're up to scratch. Nothing is more demoralising in a mental health situation than a service which is only going to make matters worse.

Attitude is another issue, of course, our 'she'll be right' approach - or worse, our refusal to accept reality or our homegrown diagnosis that someone's 'just a bit down'.

What's of big interest to me, in particular, is our young people. Anxiety is at record levels according to those at the coal face. Even very young school children are being diagnosed with anxiety these days. How much weight are these anxious younger generations going to put on our already stretched health services in the future?

We seem very adept these days at talking about wellbeing. It is the age of meditation and mindfulness after all. We can recount the benefits of fresh air and a brisk walk, a few deep breaths and learning to relax - but do we actually do it? Do we role model it for our kids? What's our role in all of this and are we playing our part?

It will take more than a government inquiry to address the very real mental health problems in our communities and our families, our schools and our workplaces.

So as much as I'm not a fan of inquiries, which can descend into talk-fests and paper pushing with no real tangible outcomes, it is encouraging that the Government aims to look at the broadest terms of reference possible.
Nothing should be off the table.


The flip side of this of course is it's time-consuming, the inquiry will involve submissions sought from around the country, it'll need collating and filing and breaking up into digestible pieces. None of that will happen before October, so in all reality, nothing will happen tangibly before next year.

Even then, it will take time. It will be costly. But worth it, because the cost of doing nothing is greater.