In the wake of devastating earthquakes in Canterbury, National’s treatment of mental health needs in the region has been absolutely shameful. Headlines like these are far too common:
Christchurch’s mental health crisis
Canterbury’s mental health funding to be cut
Chch mental health cuts ‘put lives at risk’
‘Cruel’ ministry rejects Canterbury’s ‘urgent’ mental health funding plea
Christchurch’s Princess Margaret Hospital too ‘awful’ for government reviewers to visit
Editorial: Onus on government as Canterbury health crisis deepens
Canterbury records most suicides in New Zealand
This is the context for yesterday’s announcement from Labour:
Children in Canterbury and Kaikoura will get dedicated mental health support to help them overcome the trauma of the earthquakes, says the Leader of the Opposition Jacinda Ardern.
“We’ll fund an extra eighty mental health professionals for the next three years who will work in all public primary and intermediate schools. This will mean that there will be a full-time mental health professional for every 500 school children in Canterbury.
“I know that the kids of Canterbury still bear the mental scars of the earthquakes and that the Government sadly hasn’t done what’s needed. Since 2011 there’s been a 73 per cent increase in children and young people going to mental health clinics.
“There’s a need for action as we know that waiting times for children under 12 for mental health services in Christchurch have been deteriorating.
“At the moment there are just seven full-time Canterbury District Health Board staff in their school mental health team covering over 136 schools in the region.
“We’ll invest an extra $10 million in a range of mental health professionals including psychologists and psychotherapists as well as social workers, registered nurses and community mental health workers.
“These new teams will complement Labour’s plan to roll out school based health services in all public secondary schools and create eight primary mental health care teams in GP practises including Canterbury.
“We can afford this by boosting health funding by $8 billion and restore the $2.3 billion that this Government has failed to provide for demographic pressures and inflation.
“It’s time we did a lot more to help the young people of Christchurch and Kaikoura through the terrible legacy of the earthquakes. We’ll make sure in these critical early years, they get all the help they need to allow them to grow up as happy, healthy Kiwis,” says Jacinda Ardern.
It has been well received:
Labour’s promise to boost mental health support for Canterbury’s primary-aged pupils with 80 full-time professionals is potentially a game changer.
According to Labour there are currently just seven full-time mental health workers across 136 primary and secondary schools in the region.
In an announcement in Christchurch on Wednesday, Labour leader Jacinda Adern said its workforce of 80 would mean one full-time professional per 500 pupils. These professionals would be a mix of social workers, registered nurses, counsellors and occupational therapists – the latter useful for children who struggled with issues such as excessive noise.
The $10 million-a-year scheme for three years would focus on Canterbury’s earthquake-hit centres including Christchurch and Kaikoura.
Last year there was a 27 per cent increase in the number of under-12s needing mental health help. Yet nearly two-thirds of them, or 450 children, were left to wait more than than three weeks for their first appointment with a mental health professional. Once assessed as needing treatment, many then had to wait months for it to begin.
For anyone suffering the anguish of anxiety, depression, or other untreated psychiatric conditions the pathway to care is too slow. For distressed primary-school-aged children it must feel like a lifetime.
Labour’s pledge brings some hope to the chalkface but can only be a start.
Much more is needed to ensure our district’s stretched mental health services are able to treat those in need when they need it.
Great work from Labour in an area that National have cruelly neglected.