Quakes reduce mental health stigma

NICOLE MATHEWSON
Last updated 05:00 24/12/2012

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Canterbury's earthquakes have helped break down some of the stigma around mental illness, says a new Christchurch mental health leader.

Toni Gutschlag was on Friday announced as the new general manager for the Canterbury District Health Board's (CDHB) Specialist Mental Health Services.

She would step into the role from January, taking over from Sandra Walker, who left in August.

CDHB nursing director Mary Gordon had been acting general manager for the last four months.

Gutschlag said mental health had become more of a talking point since Canterbury's earthquakes, which had helped to break down some of the traditional barriers and stigma around it.

"As a community there's a much greater awareness of the importance of mental health and wellbeing," she said.

"Through our experiences we have learned the importance of taking good care of ourselves and our families from a mental wellbeing perspective."

Gutschlag had more than 20 years experience working in mental health in Canterbury and had seen it change from an inpatient and residential-based system to having a focus on community care.

She acknowledged working in mental health care could be challenging.

"When things don't go well we need to learn from those experiences, but it is also important to highlight that across the mental health system there are people doing extraordinary things on a daily basis to ensure people's needs are met. Being part of that is a real privilege."

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