Lack of oversight
Some of the stories in this report raise very serious issues, and the people who submitted those stories describe how very hard it is for individuals to take on the challenge of holding the mental health system to account.
Corinda Taylor started Life Matters Suicide Prevention Trust, after the suicide of her 20-year-old son, Ross, in 2013. As well as setting up the trust, Corinda has pursued a formal complaint about her son’s experience in the mental health system, and started a petition calling for a review of the mental health system. As a result, Corinda has become someone who other people ask for help, including help complaining about their experience with mental health services. The most common problem people bring to Corinda is that it is very hard for people with mental health issues to get their complaint accepted.
“Most complaints get thrown out by District Health Boards. If they do make it to the Health and Disability Commission, only about 4% get investigated. The District Health Boards are so preoccupied with protecting themselves that they no longer protect the patient.”
This highlights the impact of losing the independent monitoring and oversight that was previously provided by the Mental Health Commission.
Police filling in
Because of the strain on the system police are responding to people experiencing mental distress, or extreme states. Police responded to just over 18,000 calls coded as "threatens/attempts suicide" across the country in 2015-16, up from 14,000 in 2012-13.
Senior Sergeant Matthew Morris, Project Manager Mental Health Team, NZ Police confirmed that police currently attend on average 90 mental health related events every 24 hours.
We know that many people are using mental health services in prison. In June 2016, Corrections received $14 million to buy its own mental health services, over the next two years, with $10m set aside to contract mental health workers and clinicians to help offenders in prison and in the community. However, we got very few stories from people with experience of using mental health services while in prison. This is not surprising, given the limits of this review and the constraints on people in prison, but it does highlight the need for dedicated reviews of the experiences of people using and working in mental health services in our prisons.
The Office of the Ombudsman does have the power to conduct self-initiated investigations into matters relating to mental health in prisons, and recently conducted an investigation into prisoner health services generally. In February 2017, the Chief Ombudsman released a report finding the use of restraints in prison, specifically in relation to prisoners experiencing mental distress, was in breach of the United Nations Convention Against Torture. The report highlighted the case of one self-harming prisoner in Auckland who was restrained on a tie-down bed for 16 hours a day over 37 consecutive nights, after he was refused a transfer to the Mason Clinic, a forensic psychiatric facility.