Mental health in New Zealand became an important issue in the New Zealand 2017 general election. One survey from 2016/17 shows that 19% of New Zealand adults experienced anxiety and 20% experienced depression. In response to voter concern about low funding and a shortage of mental health professionals, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern created the well-being budget in 2019.
The Well-Being Budget’s Objectives
The well-being budget has five main objectives:
- Transition to a sustainable, low-emission economy.
- Support a digital age in the nation.
- Raise Māori and Pacific economic position.
- Reduce child poverty.
- Support mental health.
Within the well-being budget, New Zealand has allocated $1.9 billion toward mental well-being specifically over five years. The aim of this new well-being approach in mental health is to replace New Zealand’s outdated Mental Health Act with a more comprehensive mental health framework that focuses on wider quality of life measures and making long-term improvements to the system of mental health services.
The Mental Health Act
New Zealand originally enacted its Mental Health Act, also known as the Compulsory Assessment and Treatment Act, in 1992. The act mainly concerns individuals who could be a danger to themselves or others. This act states that doctors should try to obtain a patient’s consent, but that it is not absolutely necessary; in fact, they can use a degree of coercion in attempting to get a patient’s consent. Many no longer consider this kind of treatment acceptable, so one of the main objectives New Zealand’s government set to improve mental health services within the well-being budget is to replace the Mental Health Act with a law that is more in line with international standards.
The Well-Being Budget
New Zealand’s mental health provisions in the well-being budget come out of a longer trend moving the focus of mental health treatment to recovery and social well-being. This movement stresses individuals’ rights to make the most informed decisions for themselves. To support mental health in New Zealand, the government set goals to establish the Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission, strengthen suicide prevention response, replace the Mental Health Act and expand access to services.
New Zealand’s plan for suicide prevention has a $40 million budget that will go toward bolstering existing services as well as place more nurses in secondary schools to reach students. Expanding access to mental health services also comes as a two-part plan. The first part involves making mental health services a part of existing primary care services and the second part involves increasing the workforce of therapists and psychologists that provide therapy for people that have mild to moderate mental health diagnoses.
While the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic placed additional stress on New Zealand’s mental health services, the country has still made considerable progress:
- Passed the necessary legislation to create a Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission (which should be operational by February 2021).
- Used $40 million to create a Suicide Prevention Office and a suicide action plan.
- Begun drafting to replace the 1992 Mental Health Act with the updated legislation.
- Pledged $455 million toward new primary mental health and addiction services over the next five years.
The rollout of many of these new policies and services slowed down in 2020 to put more focus on the COVID-19 response, but expectations have determined that the rollout will pick up more in 2021. Mental health in New Zealand has come a long way, but the government still has not met all of the goals it laid out in the well-being budget.
– Starr Sumner