New Zealand’s broken mental health system


The story about Donella Knox who killed her daughter was by far one of the saddest I have read. It was an almighty scream for help from a lady at her wits end with a daughter, Ruby Knox, who required 24 hour care; but who was prone to aggression through no fault of her own and had a multitude of serious medical issues that compounded Ruby’s situation. It highlights as do so many others, the failures that are becoming more and more frequent in our mental health system.

It is not just people like Donella though. We have people suffering depression caused by events such as the Kaikoura and Christchurch earthquakes, where people lost loved ones, properties, livelihoods – who might uncontrollably burst into tears when there is an aftershock. Where is the help for these people, especially if they saw something traumatic like a dead person under rubble, or have survivor guilt because they survived but someone they loved/respected did not?

Mr Coleman cannot possibly say that the Government is on top of the situation when we have the highest suicide rate in the developed world. The pain a parent/caregiver/sibling/spouse suffers when someone they know and love is something only they will understand. They will – even though it will not be their fault – be wondering what they could have done to help their loved one; whether they were receiving appropriate help; was there an underlying problem.

When agencies cannot/will not talk to each other regarding a patient in need there is a problem. When those agencies resort to locking patients up in Police cells normally used for holding prisoners, it means there is a critical problem with facilities. When a mental health patient who should have been in a psychiatric ward is found in someones house wearing their clothes it means their supervision has failed. And when Ministers of the Crown want to close schools for the intellectually disabled just to save a couple of dollars, it means money has trumped our most vulnerable people

And then there are our vastly under resourced, understaffed, under paid caregivers. When we as a country vastly under appreciate our care givers in the mental health system who work at a wage that is just $1/hr more than the minimum wage, there is a problem. When it is so bad that no one in their reasonable mind would want to work in the sector because of the abominable support and pay, not only do we have a problem, but it is an urgent one.

Mr Coleman might mean well, but as a Minister of Health he is frankly useless when it comes to dealing with mental health health. The sector is in crisis and the number of serious incidents arising as a result of a sector no longer able to cope is increasing. Surely that must be the surest sign something is seriously wrong with mental health in New Zealand.

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