Inquiry points to crisis in New Zealand’s mental healthcare

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A largescale inquiry on the state of mental health services in New Zealand has said that the services should focus more on the “the missing middle” – the 20% of the population who struggle with“common, disabling problems” such as anxiety.

Noting that the rates of depression, trauma and substance abuse among the population has been increasing, it said that the current care system is unsustainable and skewed towards those with the most serious problems, who constitute about 3% of the population.

“New Zealand has deliberately focused on services for people with the most serious needs, but this has resulted in an incomplete system with very few services for those with less severe needs, even when they are highly distressed,” the report said.

It said that 50-80% of the citizens experience “mental distress or addiction challenges” at some point in their lives and the poor mental health costs the economy about NZ$12bn – or 5% of GDP a year.

Calling for a greater role of community in providing care, the report said that it is not possible to “medicate or treat our way out of the epidemic of mental distress and addiction affecting all layers of our society.”

The 200-page report – titled He Ara Oranga (Pathways to Wellness) was prepared following a 10-month inquiry that involved consultations with the public, specialists and community experts from across the country.

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