Editorial: Mental health funding cuts a disgrace

Mental health funding cuts mean desperate families are left waiting months for help.

Mental health funding cuts mean desperate families are left waiting months for help.

EDITORIAL: Rates of mental health problems are increasing despite it being five years since the 2011 quakes. So why is funding to help those people being cut?

Canterbury's mental health problems - once on a par with other districts - continue to grow with more people suffering depression, anxiety and substance abuse. Emergency mental health cases have risen by more than one-third while the number of children and teenagers needing psychological help has leapt two-thirds. 

This is not a surprise. Such problems are well-documented, indeed considered universal after a disaster.

So why are our Canterbury's health chiefs having to prove to the Government the need is real and must be funded.

Instead, extraordinarily, Canterbury's mental health funding is set to drop while the national average increases. Canterbury is to be given the equivalent of $210 per person for mental health services - 20 per cent less than the national average of more than $250.

How can this be?

Last week, Canterbury District Health Board leaders told a health select committee that some services were already "starting to implode". Our most vulnerable citizens are at risk, with the greatest and growing concern being for our children.

What does it take for the scale of Canterbury's mental health issues to be recognised in Wellington?

We challenge Health Minister Jonathan Coleman and Chai Chuah, director-general of health, to visit Canterbury and meet children like 12-year-old Liam, whose mother is battling to get help for his obssessive compulsive disorder. His desperate mother had him assessed by a crisis team. Liam was placed on an 18-week list to see a psychiatrist. 

We challenge Coleman and Chuah to meet Mandy Richardson, who pleaded for help from emergency psychiatric services only to be told that unless she had a plan to take her own life, they could not see her immediately.

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We challenge them also to visit the community-based Women's Centre facing funding cuts despite struggling with their busiest period in 30 years. Some 80 per cent of the centre's clients experience depression or mental health issues yet the centre looks set to run out of money in four months and may close.

The minister should visit a new entrants' class and meet the teachers working with Canterbury's 5-year-olds who are suffering double the rate of post traumatic stress disorder symptoms, according to a Canterbury University study. These symptoms can be minor - clinginess, irritability - or appear as major meltdowns trigered by minor events. Some are starting school displaying the behaviour and learning ability of three-year-olds.

We challenge the minister and director-general to visit our police stations where officers are having to respond to a doubling in the number of call-outs for attempted suicide.

And experts say the Valentines Day quake will have been a major setback for the recovery of those already suffering quake-related issues.

So it is both disgraceful and distressing that news of cuts to mental health budgets and the likely reduction in services for our most vulnerable come in the days after this magnitude-5.7 shake. 

Surely our government can do better for the people of Canterbury.

* If you are not coping, seek advice from your General Practice team or call the Canterbury Support Line 0800 777 846.

 - The Press


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