The result of the Government's inquiry into mental health is a great disappointment. This country has no greater problem than its very high rate of youth suicide. All families that have lost a young member in this way, and all those who fear a young family member may be at risk, would have awaited the results of the inquiry with hope that some new and practical solution would emerge.
They would have read its conclusions this week with a sinking heart. The Report of the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction is 250 pages of verbiage we already knew. It's recommendations amount to spending more on services for the less serious levels of mental illness and distress.
The frustration of families who have lost disturbed young folk to suicide is often that the person had no supervision when they needed it or were released from supervision too soon. Yet despite hearing from thousands of people in its year-long investigation, the inquiry has decided the country needs an even less coercive approach to the care of the mentally ill than it already has.
It is not clear what that would mean in practice. It is not clear what any of its primary recommendations would mean in practice. It recommends "a national suicide prevention strategy", which is what the Government might have hoped to receive from this inquiry. It recommends the setting up of a permanent Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission to set a target for services to the mentally ill and addicted. Targets are a good idea if needs and services are well defined but they are not well defined by this report.
It suggests its commission, in partnership with the Ministry of Health, should, "facilitate a national co-designed service transformational process with people with lived experience of mental health and addiction challenges". In plain language, ask the mentally ill and addicted how services can be improved.
Again, that is what this inquiry was supposed to be doing this year. It says it has had 400 meetings with affected people and their whanau along with service providers and community organisations.
If an inquiry led by a very good former Health and Disability Commissioner, Ron Paterson, cannot come up with concrete practical proposes for improved mental health services, it is hard to see how a Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission will be any more successful.
The problem for this inquiry from the outset is that the Government did not give it a precise focus. It was asked to range over any issues bearing a possible influence on mental health and that it has done. It wants more restrictions on the sale of alcohol and the decriminalisation of controlled drugs, which both raise issues much wider than mental health and addiction.
The inquiry saw itself as a "once in a generation" opportunity for change. It recognised we have seen many of these exercises since mental care was moved out of psychiatric hospitals into the community more than 25 years ago, it believed this inquiry would be different because it sensed a "striking degree of consensus" about the need for a new direction. We are still waiting.
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.