Mental Health Inquiry – a battle between what people need, and what their families want

The Minister of Health has received the official report resulting from the Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry. The report makes 40 recommendations, and will be made public after the Government has checked it out, by 19 December at the latest.

Jessica McAllen attended 15 of the meetings conducted as a part of the inquiry around the country, and is reporting on what she learned.

This $6.5 million project encompassed 26 public meetings from May to August, more than 400 private ones, 5500 submissions, and now: a report with suggestions for the Government about what needs doing to fix a broken system.

Between July 2017 and June 2018, 668 people died by suspected suicide – a 10 per cent increase on the 606 people who died by suicide in 2017.

Last year, police responded to almost 35,000 mental health callouts.

At most of the inquiry’s public meetings, the voices of the families and workers were the strongest. But it was a wellbeing tug-of-war – in the same meeting where someone would argue for the return of mental hospitals, someone who had spent time in an inpatient unit would say it was “the most degrading and daunting experience of my life”.

Many families advocated for longer hospital stays, and they wanted inpatient units to get rid of unescorted leave, which allows people to take a 10-minute walk or ciggie break.

At the public meetings of the inquiry, it was clear that families also wanted more involvement in care – including access to medical records.

Families often know their loved ones best, but not always. Some people may have bad relationships with their parents, are abused, or come from families who don’t believe mental illness is real. Parents can be in denial, worried it reflects on them.

How do you balance the rights of the person living with suicidal thoughts with the rights of their family, who, as a young man said when talking about his mother: “[I] dread the day I come home and find her body”? How do you help someone seeing and hearing a different reality, who spirals into distress when confronted? What about the nurse who wants to work without being punched?

A significant number of parents opposed psychiatric medication, and wanted the return of dedicated mental health hospitals instead.

The inquiry’s public meetings were a way for people to talk and cry to the people they hoped would make a fundamental change. In Christchurch, a man stormed up to the panel and one member stood up nervously. On the way out he yelled: “Stop acting like a bunch of girls.” Another showed the scuffed shoes and hoodie that his son wore when he killed himself.

A spokesman for the Inquiry later said there had been several meetings in high schools across the country – pointing to a handful of private group sessions with the youth representative and panel visits to a few other schools. The young woman’s comment relayed a wider problem. The inquiry alerted people to its presence through workforce emails, its social media (657 twitter followers and 4.2k Facebook likes at time of publishing) and newspaper notices. These did not reach everyone.

There was a larger attendance at the Dunedin youth meeting but a student who attended said Green MP Chloe Swarbrick’s later mental health meeting had a significantly bigger turnout.

At the meetings, where family views could become dominant, I wondered what the person they were talking about would have said. What those inquiry meetings would have been like if the family voice didn’t lead but instead supported the general discussion.

But really, our whole conversation across NZ is often dominated by those without issues themselves. Our knowledge is only half-baked. You wouldn’t force someone to down egg yolk as a hangover cure just because their cousin said so. Not if they knew what really worked for them was hot chocolate.

There is a lot more detail in the article, with a number of examples of people grappling with mental health and with our mental health care system.

It won’t be easy working out what is best for those suffering from mental health, and those trying to deal with faamily members and friends suffering from mental health problems.



Leave a comment


  1. Alan Wilkinson

     /  3rd December 2018

    Mental health issues are tough for everyone involved and impossible when they get adversorial. Have to focus hard on what works.

  2. Mother

     /  3rd December 2018

    $35 000 mental health call outs? Poor Police. I know that at least one of those in 2015 was because a liar gave a false report about a sane and lucid person, after he lost his temper regarding an important family issue. It was simply his way of harassing the victim.

    Our Police should not be having to deal with issues of adversory within community. We have a big long term problem with harassment/abuse. There are no number of enquiries nor government systems which will solve that. Church is not an ‘institution’ Alan, and she does have something great to offer NZ. I’m sorry that Christians have opened themselves up to mockery. I hope it will change, for the sake of democracy and peace in NZ.

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  3rd December 2018

      Yes, the Churches are institutions, Mother. I accept they can and do do lots of good work and I respect Christians who live up to their ideals. But they are not institutions I want to be involved with as I do not believe they stand for truth when it conflicts with their beliefs and I do not like the power structures they maintain.

  3. Kitty Catkin

     /  3rd December 2018

    It was a real shame when the hospital at Hanmer (Queen Mary?) closed. This great place had an excellent cure rate.

  4. Mother

     /  3rd December 2018

    Yes, the churches are institutions, and they are being a pain. Church is not an institution. I don’t deliberately present a riddle Alan. If I could have healed sooner in life, I too would have kept away from them. Face to face is best for discussing riddles.

  1. Mental Health Inquiry – a battle between what people need, and what their families want — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: