The People’s Mental Health Review is a grassroots initiative, crowdfunded by members of the ActionStation community and supported largely by the efforts of volunteers. The Review consisted of an open call to people who had experience with New Zealand’s mental health system to share their stories. We invited people to submit their stories online, with the option to be anonymous, and welcomed stories in various formats. The Review received more than 500 stories. Of those stories 276 came from people with experience of using or trying to access mental health services, 78 stories from people who work in mental health services, and 154 from people whose family members either used or worked in mental health services.
We are not suggesting that these stories represent the full range of experiences of people who have used or worked in mental health services in New Zealand. Nor do we claim that the stories can be interpreted quantitatively, to make claims about how many people in New Zealand have had these different types of experiences.
We do, however, note that the themes which emerge from the more than 500 stories submitted to this review are consistent with previous reviews of mental health in New Zealand, and we do know that they reflect the experiences of many people working in and using mental health services in our country.
here are the key themes that emerged from our stories
Access and wait times
Many people have had difficulty accessing appropriate and timely mental health services, and in particular, many people faced long wait times to access publicly funded treatments. In a number of stories, people expressed concern that they couldn’t get the help they needed until their health had deteriorated to the point of crisis. As a result, people observed, resources that could be more constructively used for community-based early intervention are absorbed by expensive and, in too many cases, ineffective crisis management.
Need for more treatment
Many people said they didn’t have appropriate treatment options. Specifically, people expressed concern about the harmful impact of an over-reliance on medication, partly due to a lack of resources for a wider range of treatments, including a full range of talking therapies, accessing peer support, or simply having someone who could take the time to listen.
Entrenched problems including compulsion
Essential mental health services need an urgent increase in funding and a review of where those funds are spent. But money won’t fix everything. The stories in this review show there are entrenched problems in the ways we think about and respond to people experiencing mental distress in this country. People described being treated in ways that were dismissive, dehumanising and punitive, and felt they had no say or power over their own treatment. New Zealand also continues to have a high rate of compulsory treatment orders, a concern which has been raised by human rights bodies repeatedly in the past.
People who work
in mental health
Both service users and mental health workers described an under-resourced, over-worked and stressed mental health workforce. This has resulted in negative impacts on the health and wellbeing of people working within the system as well as on the service they are able to provide to people seeking their support.
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. This highlights the impact of losing the independent monitoring and oversight that was previously provided by the Mental Health Commission
Mental health and wellbeing in New Zealand is undermined by many social and economic factors that operate outside the mental health system. This includes the ongoing impacts of colonisation, and the damaging effects of all forms of discrimination and violence, including the high levels of domestic and sexual violence in our country. Mental wellbeing is also negatively affected by financial stressors including job insecurity, low-wage work and the lack of affordable housing.
here are the Key themes by number of stories
- 464 of the stories (93%) focused mostly on problems and challenges people experienced either using or working in mental health services.
- 36 stories (7%) were about positive experiences that people had while using or working in mental health services, this includes stories that were mixed but contained explicitly positive elements.
- 179 of the stories submitted (36%) were about problems accessing mental health services including long wait times, and needing to be in crisis to get access.
- 112 of the stories (23%) were about strain on workers, and other negative impacts of an overstretched and under-resourced mental health system.
- 102 of the stories (21%) described trauma, including physical and sexual violence, most often as a cause of mental distress, sometimes as a result of trying to access mental health care. Of these, 30 stories were specifically about sexual violence.
- 94 of the stories (19%) were about children and young people, many of these were submitted by adults whose experience with mental health services started when they were young.
- 94 of the stories (19%) were about suicide, including attempted suicide and stories submitted by friends or family members of people who died by suicide.
- 85 of the stories (17%) were about the lack of respect, dignity, choice and control accorded to people using mental health services.
- 78 stories (16%) were specifically about people who work in mental health services
- 69 of the stories (14%) were about medication, mostly about the negative side effects of psychiatric drugs, and the lack of choice for other treatment options.
- 60 of the stories (12%) were about the economic, social and cultural factors that affect mental health and well-being, the specific issues that came up include work stress, housing problems, discrimination and bullying.
- 52 stories (11%) were explicitly about the cost of accessing health services being a barrier, often these were stories where people didn’t meet the threshold for publicly funded mental health services, but couldn’t afford private therapy.
- 36 stories (7%) were about positive experiences that people had using or working in mental health services, this includes stories that were mixed but contained some explicitly positive elements.
- 30 stories (6%) were about compulsory treatment.
- 25 stories (5%) were about the involvement of police in situations where people were experiencing mental distress.