The Press ran this article today on the impact on Mental health services and staff of the ‘unprecedented growth’ in demand for services in Canterbury following the 2010/11 earthquakes. Adult acute inpatient services are at capacity. Assaults on staff are up. Staffing ratios are at dangerous levels. The head-line said it all: specialist mental health services are on a knife edge.
Yet, despite this obvious and growing need, funding has fallen behind. It’s not good enough; it’s not right. The impact on these dedicated and professional staff is significant. As one nurse stated, it needs to be addressed before someone is killed.
Imagine then, the negative impact of all this on the patients themselves. They too are on a knife edge. As a local Baptist Pastor I have seen the impact first hand. Over the years since the quake, I have worked with a number of people with mental health issues: ranging from anxiety-driven anti-social behaviour through to severe clinical depression. Their doctors and nurses are doing the best they can. But, because of a lack of funding, people are falling through the cracks. And that means, people are at real risk of dying.
In the last twelve months I’ve supported three people seeking to get emergency mental health intervention: each time to no effect, and each time with potentially disastrous consequences.
There was a young woman who tried to suicide five times in three weeks. Despite the high risk to her and the distress on her family, she has been released back into ‘self-care’ after each episode is barely over: only to attempt suicide again within days.
Or man who knew he was obsessing dangerously, about an ex-partner. He too sought help. He was turned away because no-one was at immediate risk: only to be imprisoned for subsequently breaching a protection order.
And then the woman suffering from extreme anxiety, who was told to go home and have a warm bath and chocolate: who, when she got home, took to her house with an axe.
In each case we pleaded for help. In each case under-resourcing meant there was no bed. In each case it immediately got far worse.
Since 2010, National has cut $1.7 billion from health funding. These people, and others like them in the Ilam electorate, are the ones directly suffering the consequences of these cuts.
This can’t go on. The services are at breaking point. The staff are at severe risk. But most important of all, we are letting down the patients and their families. We must not wait until someone dies. We need more beds, and we need them now.