NZ Herald – 8 Oct, 2022, 05:00 am
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Photo / Dean Purcell, File


Our minds are complicated creatures and resolving issues of mental well-being can, likewise, be complex.

One big challenge to our Great Minds series has been to stem the desire to chase an easy answer. Like one of the dominant symptoms of the struggle with mental health, the sheer scope and scale of the potential issues can be overwhelming.

As with any large and seemingly unsurmountable challenge, the best course can be to break it down into a series of achievable steps and focus on one at a time, without looking too far ahead.

The path to mental wellness is best trod one measured step at a time. So too is the way to address what is leading to our adolescent rate of suicide, the second worst in the developed world at 14.9 deaths per 100,000 adolescents.

After eight months of reportage, investigations editor Alex Spence has identified 15 ways to address New Zealand’s mental health crisis.

As he points out, none is the silver bullet. Nor do we believe they are the only solutions.

Some of these points identify people in positions with the capacity to influence change, such as the Prime Minister. This is not to criticise anyone for what has gone before. To make progress, it’s time to set aside what has not worked. It is time to pick up on the work that has been started by people described by Spence as the “passionate outsiders” such as Mike King and Sir John Kirwan.
Some of the solutions may be unpalatable. The need for more regulation of alcohol, for instance, may grate with those who have no problem with their drinking, or rather, perceive they have no problem. Experts have time and again produced empirical data to prove our relationship with alcohol is unhealthy and unsustainable.

Many of the answers are expensive. The Government is already spending around $1.9 billion each year on mental health and addiction services. Embracing the best of new technologies and expanding the mental health workforce and specialist services won’t come cheap.

But if it doubles the cost, so what? The Government spent $14 billion on wage subsidies to save businesses and the economy during Covid-19. How much are the lives of our young people worth?

Some solutions are already there and supported by substantial charities. One example is MindUP, an evidence-based programme for children aged 3-14 – founded by actress Goldie Hawn in 2003 and devised by neuroscience, education, mindfulness, and psychology experts.

The Auckland Business Chamber, led by project director Michael Barnett, has offered to steer a trial of MindUP in 20 schools across New Zealand, supported by the Goldie Hawn Foundation. As Barnett says, “we’ll teach children happiness”. Why wouldn’t we?

In summing up the Great Minds series this week, we would like to acknowledge the courage and generosity of the people who have told their very personal stories. Any progress made in this field are the seeds of their sacrifice. Experts in the many clinical areas of mental wellbeing have also given their time most graciously and we thank them.

As we said at the outset, this is an enormous task. But few are as important to the future of the country.

As for addressing our own stress, Great Minds happiness editor Matt Heath has helpfully narrowed his focus down to five concepts: “Your inner voice doesn’t have to be an enemy; freezing cold water is good; friendship is everything; fears need to be faced; and in 200 years from now no one will know he existed, and that’s a good thing.”

Fears need to be faced, for those we have lost and for those we can save.

Today, we challenge the Government to tell us which of the 15 solutions identified by our eight-month Great Minds investigation will be implemented first. Once done, we can talk about what’s next.

Where to get help

If it is an emergency and you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

For counselling and support:

Lifeline: Call 0800 543 354 or text 4357 (HELP)

Suicide Crisis Helpline: Call 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

Need to talk? Call or text 1737

Depression helpline: Call 0800 111 757 or text 4202

For children and young people:

Youthline: Call 0800 376 633 or text 234

What’s Up: Call 0800 942 8787 (11am to 11pm) or webchat (11am to 10.30pm)

For help with specific issues:

Alcohol and Drug Helpline: Call 0800 787 797

Anxiety Helpline: Call 0800 269 4389 (0800 ANXIETY)

OutLine: Call 0800 688 5463 (0800 OUTLINE) (6pm-9pm)

Safe to talk (sexual harm): Call 0800 044 334 or text 4334

All services are free and available 24/7 unless otherwise specified.

For more information and support, talk to your local doctor, hauora, community mental health team, or counselling service. The Mental Health Foundation has more helplines and service contacts on its website.