Mental health experts say the devil will be in the details of the government’s long-term path to mental well-being, Kia Manawanui.
But the nitty-gritty appears to be missing from the document, and experts warn that little will change unless the plan is developed.
The 10-year plan published last month aims to address the causes of mental anguish in Aotearoa.
It is part of the government’s broader response to the He Ara Oranga investigation in 2018, with an oversight group established to monitor its performance.
The Executive Director of the Mental Health Foundation, Shaun Robinson, said that Kia Manawanui is the first step.
“He Ara Oranga is the name of the story, Kia Manawanui is another chapter, but it is part of the same story.
“The great story is what gives me hope. Getting back on the right track gives me hope, but the next thing is that we have to see it put into practice.”
Kia Manawanui proposes short, medium and long-term actions for the government to take, but has been criticized for not including milestones to be met.
The foundation has suggested a rolling action plan that is established every two years with clear goals, such as increasing the availability of services and the number of staff.
“I think we should say, ‘okay, homelessness is a major problem,’ we just have a good hopeful policy change on how to tackle housing problems in New Zealand,” Robinson said.
“We need to establish links with justice. The mental health problems within the prison system are huge, so let’s say, ‘What is being done in that prison system to address mental health problems?'”
Mental Health and Welfare Commission Chairman Hayden Wano said that instead of setting goals, an action plan could be formed by working backward from an end goal.
“Let’s do a good process around how to define and describe what success could look like, that would be a good starting point.
“And then going back from that point and saying, ‘well, over what length of time can we achieve something and what would we put in place to determine when we are on the right track or not?’
“And in that process, also define who is doing what.”
Wano said the commission wants the government to prioritize five areas in its mental health approach, including improving outcomes for Maori, including community-led design of Maori kaupapa services and working with people with lived experiences of mental anguish and addiction to expand services so that people can recover in their local communities.
And how will we know that mahi is making a difference?
“Let’s talk to people,” Wano said.
“Let’s talk to the people who have had the experience, the whānau, to the people on the front line, and let’s use those forums to be able to describe what success looks like.”
Robinson said that success would be demonstrated at the level of well-being in the community, which was very different from the level of mental illness.
“For my well-being, as someone living with bipolar disorder, if I couldn’t have access to medications, specialized health services when I need them, or counseling or therapy when I need them, that would definitely undermine my well-being.” he said.
“But also, if I couldn’t work, if I couldn’t find work, and if I didn’t have enough money to keep a roof over my head and food on my table and a reasonable level of community involvement for myself and my whānau, that would undermine my well-being “.
The director of social work at the University of Auckland, Dr. Barbara Staniforth, cautioned that all political parties must be on board to address the challenges that would take generations to overcome.
“We see more and more that when we have these really complex problems that are going to take a long time to solve or overcome, we are really going to need the commitment of all parties to move towards the best for the citizens of Aotearoa.
“We need to start together in the training stages,” he said.
“We cannot trust a policy that is being presented and that is linked only to one part, that has been developed exclusively by one party, that we know, by virtue of having gone down that path, that the other parties are going to oppose it.
“So we really need to see the governments working together and the parties working together, from the beginning.”
An external oversight group will monitor the government’s performance and advocates are closely monitoring its next steps.
And Robinson said the public had high expectations.
“The people of New Zealand are not going to let this problem go away,” he said.
“There is too much concern about it and any politician who chooses to ignore mental health now would do so at their own risk: they will be absolutely destroyed at the polls.”
Health Minister Andrew Little has said that the mental health system was neglected under the national government and fixing it was a huge task.