Source: Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG)
Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) applauds the newly released He Ara Oranga: Report of the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction, and says it a comprehensive and substantive response to the wide ranging submissions, with commendable focus on prevention, and notably on the impacts of poverty on children’s mental health.
“The significance and the magnitude of this undertaking by the Inquiry team, and the role that the review has played in highlighting the distress that mental health problems cause in the lives of many New Zealanders, can not be underestimated,” says Professor Tony Dowell, mental health spokesperson for CPAG.
The report, which collated the responses from many groups and individuals, revealed that poverty and its implications for mental health was a prime area of emphasis, noting that people at much greater risk for poor mental health included those who experienced poverty, a lack of affordable housing and low-paid work.
Reducing economic deprivation among children was seen by many as a much-needed response to preventing mental health issues arising in childhood, adolescence and adulthood.
Professor Innes Asher, CPAG health spokesperson, says, “In particular, the impacts for children on their long-term health outcomes is a recurring theme, and we are pleased to see the report take a cross-sector approach in its recommendations for prevention of mental health issues.
“Poverty has been found to increase the risk of depression and anxiety among mothers of babies, and to have detrimental effects on a child’s emotional development if they experience poverty in their early years. Ensuring that families have income adequacy will be key to improving mental health outcomes across Aotearoa, and we are pleased to see the recommendation that the Ministry of Health should work with other agencies including the Ministry of Education, Te Puni Kōkiri and the Ministry of Social Development, to determine the gaps and support the Government to remedy them,” says Professor Asher.
“Reducing the impacts of poverty is critical for all children’s health outcomes.”
Professor Tony Dowell says it is important for the Government recognise and respond to the the full scale of the problem.
“While the Minister of Health on receipt of the report states that “one in five people experience mental health and addiction challenges at any given time”, there is clear evidence that at a community level those in poverty are experiencing rates of distress much higher than that,” says Professor Dowell.
“Given the hard work already being successfully undertaken by many health and social service professionals in the mental health and addictions field the Government will need to recognise that significant expansion of primary care services will take both time and financial support.”
Debbie Leyland, spokesperson for CPAG and member of the United Community Action Network says the focus on incomes is critical to working toward healthier communities.
“It’s encouraging to see included in the mental health and addiction review the need to address incomes and housing issues to help ease the financial and mental stress families face every day,”
Too many families and whānau experience barriers, such as cost and limited service availability, as well as not meeting specific criteria (i.e. high level need) to accessing timely and age-appropriate mental health care and CPAG is pleased to see the recommendation of increased access for those with mild to moderate mental health concerns. CPAG supports the recommendation for use of internet-based tools which in many instances will be accessible even to those in poverty and on low incomes. A focus placed on the most severe mental health distress and suicidality, is highly appropriate particularly given New Zealand’s high youth suicide rate and the numbers of young people for whom poverty is a contributory factor in their distress.
“Culturally appropriate support for mental health concerns and early stage detection is critical to reducing the risk of long-term harm, as well as to address suicide prevention, and we are pleased to see that culturally-aligned therapies are recommended,” says Professor Asher.
The recommendation for identifying and treating addiction as a health problem rather than a criminal one is critical for families, who may be at greater risk of poverty, intergenerational trauma and associated mental health problems as a result of family members being convicted and incarcerated.
CPAG is encouraged and inspired by the report, and is hopeful that it will support the Government to make the urgently needed, cross-sector reforms that will improve lives across Aotearoa, with long-term and sustained results.
To read CPAG’s submission to the Inquiry (June 2018) visit our website here.