We’re asking for a system change for mental health

On Tuesday about 50 people gathered in Wellington to present and discuss with panel members of the Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction our submission asking for a system where no one is turned away.

Inquiry panelists Professor Ron Patterson (left) and Dean Rangihuna (right) with Mary O’Hagan, Peerzone Director.

For the last three months, people just like us — mums, dads, brothers, sisters, aunties, uncles, partners, grandparents — have been contributing their whakaaro (thoughts) about how our government can improve mental health services, and in turn mental wellbeing, in Aotearoa.

Almost 2000 individuals and organisations signed the Open Submission based on the Wellbeing Manifesto, developed by PeerZone, a social enterprise run by and for people with mental distress.[1,2,3]

“The Government Inquiry gives us the biggest opportunity I’ve seen in my lifetime to change the system so that no-one is turned away and everyone gets more than just medication.” — Mary O’Hagan, PeerZone Director and former Mental Health Commissioner

Mary O’Hagan had traveled from Christchurch to speak to the panellists who are charged with making recommendations to government about how to make our mental health system work better.

She described how the Manifesto came together. PeerZone led a consultation with people with lived experience of mental distress and advocates for change in the mental health system to ask ‘what changes do we want to see?’

This led to the proposal for a fundamental change to the way we respond to people with mental distress and addiction so that everyone is able to access a full range of services, supports and opportunities.

A copy of the submission with Marianne Elliott speaking in the background on behalf of the ActionStation community.

The vision of the Wellbeing Manifesto sees a range of support available to everyone alongside psychiatry — from personal and whānau support; to income, work and housing support; talking therapies and treatments; spiritual healing; and crisis responses.

Mary describes the concept as ‘Big Community’, where there is local targeted support for people when they need it.

“It was such an honour to be invited to speak alongside Mary O’Hagan tonight. She is an incredible advocate for a better, more humane, more decent approach to mental wellbeing.” — Marianne Elliott, ActionStation co-founder and board member

Marianne spoke on behalf of the ActionStation community to describe the background and development of the People’s Mental Health Report last year (in partnership with Kyle McDonald and Mike King).[4]

She talked about how much it meant to her personally to see the Inquiry Panel in person, as a concrete response to the calls from the ActionStation community and and to the courage shown by everyone who shared their stories with the People’s Review.

Marianne said the Wellbeing Manifesto was the essential next step after the People’s Mental Health Report — moving from a description of the shortcomings in our mental health system, and the harm that was doing to people, to a vision of a better future in which everyone is supported to be well.

Panelists and audience at the presentation of the Open Submission

The panelists, who have travelled around the country hearing from New Zealanders from all walks of life, talked about some common themes that they have heard from public consultations.

While they couldn’t talk about their recommendations at this point they said many of the themes are similar to the findings of the People’s Mental Health Report, and to the vision of our submission.

They said they heard often that people aren’t getting treatment or access to support at the right times when they need it. And that once able to access services some people told the Panel they had stayed there, finding it difficult to be able to move forward in their lives as independent, strong and thriving humans. This is something the members of the panel said they hope to address in their report.

Mary O’Hagan of PeerZone talking with Inquiry representatives, from left: Josiah Tualamali’i, Dr Barbara Disley, Professor Ron Patterson and Dean Rangihuna.

PeerZone manager Lisa Archibald was impressed with the commitment of the individual members of the Panel and says it’s important to give credit to them.

They have traveled the length of New Zealand and heard some very powerful and personal stories over the last few months. For example in each rohe (area) people have spoken about family members they had lost to mental distress and suicide.

“This has been a weight on the shoulders of the Panelists and they acknowledged the final report won’t be able to please everybody. I saw how they stayed till the very end of the evening till the last person had left — they dedicated their time to hear the collective voice that’s in the Manifesto.” — Lisa Archibald, Peerzone Manager

We recognise the big challenge facing the panel members as they work towards presenting a report to government that will weave together the input, wishes and stories from us all.

But we also look forward to a time where there is support available for us, our friends and our whānau, whenever we experience mental distress or addiction. We’ll be updating the ActionStation community again when the report is due by the end of October.

P.S. You can watch a short video of the presentation of the submission last night here: Presentation of the Open Submission