Nearly half the country will meet the criteria for a mental illness diagnosis at some point in their lives. One in five New Zealanders will experience a mental health issue in the next year.
Those amazing statistics stem from the recent Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction – and have coincided with the introduction of a new service: the Mental Health Navigator.
Launched not long before Mental Health Week, Mental Health Navigator is a partnership between New Zealand health insurance company Accuro and Best Doctors. It is designed to provide fast, comprehensive and confidential access to a team of mental health professionals, avoiding what can be prolonged waiting times.
A call to the Mental Health Navigator number will be answered by a specialist mental health nurse, followed up within 10-14 days by a video call with specialist psychologists and psychiatrists. This team can diagnose mental health conditions, develop a treatment plan, or act as a valuable second opinion. The mental health nurse then provides follow up support over the next 6-12 months.
"Fast access to diagnosis and treatment is an important part of people getting better before they get worse, and with typical wait times of two to six months through the public system, we feel access within two weeks can make a dramatic difference to a person's wellbeing," says Geoff Annals, CEO of Accuro Health Insurance, the not-for-profit health insurer based in Wellington.
"For many, issues such as depression or anxiety really affect their lives. Yet a lot of people don't seek help, or have issues with their treatment plan," says Annals. "The Government announced significant mental health funding this year, yet access to specialists can still be very limited, with long wait times, and can also be very expensive."
Also expensive, he says, is the direct and indirect cost of mental ill health – estimated at 5 per cent of GDP or about $12 billion.
The report of the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction, released late last year, said: "The cost of poor mental wellbeing and addiction is high. It is a high cost to individuals, families and whānau, businesses and organisations, communities, government and the country as a whole."
Clear links existed between social deprivation, trauma, exclusion and increasing levels of mental distress, with wellbeing further undermined by aspects of modern life, such as loss of community, isolation and loneliness.
The report, which made 40 recommendations, said New Zealand could not medicate or treat its way out of the epidemic of mental distress and addiction affecting all layers of society: "We need to ensure practical help and support in the community are available when people need it, and government has a key role to play here. But some solutions lie in our own hands. We can do more to help each other."
Annals says Mental Health Navigator has a role to play within that overall context – and Accuro members are amongst the first New Zealanders to have access to Mental Health Navigator, launched first in Canada, then Australia and will soon be available in Europe.
It is free for Accuro members, covered by an Accuro Specialist Plan*, aged 18 or over.
"People can access the service without having to leave their own home, an important detail for members who might be fearful of hospital appointments, or have trouble travelling to them," says Annals.
"This is the first time such a quick, easy and professional mental health support service has been available to New Zealanders through health insurance. The Accuro Mental Health Navigator joins Best Doctors, SkinVision, our wellbeing Health Hub and bowel cancer screening kits as active benefits Accuro offers its members in supporting their health before they might need to call us. We call it Active Insurance."
Who can use Mental Health Navigator?
• If you are looking for a diagnosis
• If you are unsure your existing diagnosis or treatment plan is correct
• If your current mental health diagnosis or treatment hasn't been effective
• If you need clarity and assurance on your next steps
The MHN is not the best tool for dealing with acute situations. If you are concerned about the immediate safety of yourself or a loved one, you should call 111 or a helpline.
How does it work?
Step 1 - When you call the 0800 number a mental health nurse will talk with you by phone and again through video call a few days later to further understand what you are going through.
Step 2 – MHN will gather your medical history and complete a clinical summary before quickly matching you with the right team of experts.
Step 3 – An assigned expert team, consisting of a leading NZ registered psychiatrist and psychologist, will meet with you by video call to assess your condition.
Step 4 – The nurse will call you to discuss the expert findings and provide a detailed report outlining diagnosis and best treatment options. You will be guided into the recommended treatment plan and provide ongoing support.
*Includes a $500 benefit towards further consultations with NZ registered psychologists and psychiatrists, should follow-up be required.