A quarter of New Zealanders currently have poor levels of mental and emotional wellbeing, including nearly a third of women, according to a recent study commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation (MHF).
The study, conducted by global research company Ipsos, provides an insight into the wellbeing of New Zealanders and was administered at the end of 2020, following nearly a year of living through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This data shows the government needs to up its game to fulfil its promises around mental health,” MHF chief executive Shaun Robinson says.
While the average wellbeing score is positive, the MHF is concerned to see 25% of New Zealanders have low wellbeing and are at risk of developing poor mental health. Women (one in three), those with a yearly household income of $50,000 or less are at particular risk of falling into this category.
Those who did not have good lifestyle habits to support their wellbeing were heavily represented in the at-risk quarter of the population.
“We can do better than this, and we must,” Mr Robinson says. “Good mental and emotional wellbeing is proven to be an asset for personal, whānau, community and work-related success. If we are to recover from COVID-19 we cannot afford to ignore the signs that a significant portion of our population need support.”
“This is a wake-up call to the Government that it is long past time to take urgent action to implement He Ara Oranga and fulfil its promises around mental health. We are disappointed. He Ara Oranga was a beacon of hope for a revolution of change for the mental health of New Zealanders but, in many ways, it seems to have stagnated. There is still no transparent and accountable plan for its implementation.
He Ara Oranga is the report of the Government Inquiry into mental health and addiction. It was published in November 2018, and the Government accepted, accepted in principle or agreed to further consideration of 38 of the 40 recommendations made by the inquiry panel, but we’re still waiting on a plan of implementation for many of the recommendations.
“The cold reality is that things at the coal face of mental health have not changed for many New Zealanders since He Ara Oranga was first published,” Mr Robinson says. “Our most vulnerable people are still waiting, and more people are tipping into that vulnerable category. That is not acceptable.”
The MHF was dismayed to learn that the Government has allocated no funding at all for mental wellbeing promotion in the entirety of its $1.9 billion Wellbeing Budget.
Good mental health promotion is a key part of turning these numbers around. The research shows that encouraging people to adopt lifestyle habits that boost wellbeing works – the more wellbeing activities people adopted the higher their wellbeing score.
Furthermore, the world-leading programme Getting Through Together, rolled out nationwide to help New Zealanders cope with the impacts of COVID-19, is due to lose all Government funding by June 2021.
This is despite proven results: Getting Through Together successfully reached over a third of all New Zealand adults in 2020, with 58% of those stating they were empowered to take action for their wellbeing as a result of the programme. The promotion works particularly well for Māori and Pasifika.
“This is truly a short-sighted waste of investment and a missed opportunity to build long-term positive mental wellbeing,” Mr Robinson says,
As we continue to respond to and recover from COVID-19, we cannot afford not to invest in prevention of mental distress and in building the wellbeing of our people. That means making sure that every New Zealander has access to the skills, support, information and tools they need to thrive and succeed.
“Investing in wellbeing promotion now prevents people from needing more acute support down the line, it boosts our personal and community wellbeing – it’s the smart thing to do and the right thing to do,” Mr Robinson says.
The Mental Health Foundation is calling on the Prime Minister and the Minister of Health to show leadership and commitment to a true transformation of New Zealand’s mental wellbeing.
“The Prime Minister and the Minister of Health must show us how they will implement the full 38 recommendations of He Ara Oranga that they committed to in 2019,” Mr Robinson says.