Greens promise Mental Health Minister if re-elected, free counselling for everyone under 25

Source: 1News

If it ends up in Government again, the Green Party is promising to create New Zealand’s first Minister of Mental Health, and wants to make counselling free for everyone under 25.

Ms Swarbrick says she has a proven track record of speaking out on issues that matter.

Mental health spokesperson Chlöe Swarbrick also made numerous other pledges today.

These included promising those with acute or severe mental health needs getting attention within three hours, reducing all other wait times to less than three weeks and funding for inpatient and community mental health services.

The Greens also want free counselling to eventually be extended to all ages. Currently, free mental health services can be accessed in some situations .

“What is clear is that mental health shouldn’t be treated as a subset of the health portfolio,” Swarbrick said. 

“Mental health is on the increase, particularly during the era of Covid-19. We must dedicate a Minister to ensuring that the mental health crisis in New Zealand is addressed.”

The National Party made a similar commitment to creating a Mental Health Minister in September.

She said the Green party wanted to shift the perception of mental health as a community-wide responsibility, instead of placing a burden on people experiencing mental health difficulties. 

The party would also improve post-natal mental health services and fund innovative initiatives “ that indicate high recovery rates with minimal medication”, Swarbrick said.

“We should do everything in our power to stop people getting to crisis point, but there will always be some people who have unpredictable and challenging experiences and our healthcare system should be there for them."

More than 10,000 people who needed non-acute mental health treatment were made to wait three weeks for services last year, which was putting lives at risk, Swarbrick said.

“In Government with Labour, the Greens have made mental health services more accessible for thousands of young New Zealanders through the Piki programme, but we know we need to go further.

“The Greens supported the Government’s Wellbeing Budget investment of $1.9 billion for mental health but this clearly hasn’t yet made enough difference for people at the frontlines.”

She said reducing wait times may mean increasing the proportion of DHBs’ dedicated mental health funding, which is currently set at three per cent.

“We’ve heard that some DHBs are already stretching this to cover around four per cent of their communities, and the actual need could be much greater,” Swarbrick said.

“Specific funding increases should be worked through in the next Government.”

She also said the Greens would continue working with Parliament’s cross-party mental health group set up earlier this year to build consensus on policy solutions.

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern said she was willing to listen to the Greens' argument for a separate Mental Health Minister.

“But I wouldn’t want to see a separation of mental health care from the health system," she added.

Ardern said Labour had a different focus. 

“I believe our focus needs to be in integrating mental health care in health generally."