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Mental health services
This section provides a brief
overview of specialist mental health services in New Zealand.
Access to specialist
People working in
Before or after using specialist mental health services, people
may see primary care workers to help with mental distress:
- General practitioners (GPs) are doctors who
diagnose and treat common or minor physical illness and mental
distress. They often refer people with more serious mental distress
to specialist mental health services.
- Private practitioners (such as counsellors,
psychotherapists, clinical psychologists and psychiatrists in
private practice) provide more specialised services than GPs, for a
Workers in specialist mental health services
There are various types of mental health workers who have all
had different training to meet different needs for treatment and
support but their roles can overlap quite a lot.
- Case managers or key workers (often a mental
health nurse or a social worker) co-ordinate people's care, are
their main contact point and support them to develop their goals
and strategy for recovery.
- Clinical psychologists assess psychological
problems and help people develop personal strategies to assist
- Consumer advisors advocate for consumers and
advise services on how to provide recovery-focused services.
- District inspectors are lawyers with
responsibilities to safeguard the rights of people under the Mental
Health Act through giving legal advice, investigating complaints
and arranging for a lawyer to represent people under compulsory
assessment or treatment.
- Duly authorised officers (DAOs) are health
professionals with special responsibilities under the Mental Health
Act to give advice on the Act and help with compulsory
- Family advisors advocate for families and
advise providers how to work with families.
- Māori cultural workers with titles such as
whai manaaki or kaiāwhina and other Māori staff offer support to
people and their whānau. Kaumātua and kuia also provide advice and
guidance to services.
- Mental health nurses give care and support for
clinical and other needs in both community and inpatient
- Occupational therapists provide activities to
help people regain lost abilities and develop new living
- Pacific cultural workers help mainstream
services provide culturally respectful services for Pacific
- Peer support workers have personal experience
of mental distress and/or addiction and are trained to provide care
and support from that perspective.
- Psychiatrists are doctors specialising in
mental distress who diagnose, prescribe medication and oversee
clinical care. Some can also provide psychotherapy. Psychiatric
registrars are trainee psychiatrists.
- Responsible clinicians are usually
psychiatrists and are responsible for people's treatment while they
are subject to compulsory assessment and treatment under the Mental
- Social workers look after people's social and
practical needs such as family assistance, welfare benefits,
housing, jobs and so on.
- Support workers support people to take an
active role in their recovery and offer a listening ear, advice and
practical assistance. They are usually based in community
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Access to specialist
Experiencing mental distress and using specialist mental health
services (such as an inpatient unit) can be traumatic for people,
but when most people look back on their experiences, they realise
some good comes from it as well.
Specialist mental health services can be very difficult to get
in to. There is a huge demand for services in some places, and they
may only be able to admit people who are really unwell.
A lot of people decide themselves to use specialist mental
health services, but sometimes other people make that decision for
Usually you have to be referred by a health professional:
- Your general practitioner (family doctor) may refer you because
you need more expert help than they can give.
- You may be referred through an accident and emergency service,
for instance, if you have harmed yourself.
- You may ring up your local mental health helpline, mental
health crisis services or psychiatric emergency team who will
decide whether or not you could benefit from mental health
Some people are taken to specialist mental health services by
the Police. Occasionally the Courts are involved.
If you have difficulty getting into specialist mental health
services, keep trying. Get family, friends or relatives to support
you and let the mental health service know how bad things are for
What some people feel about it
Most people feel really bad by the time they get into specialist
mental health services. Your mental distress may make you feel
overwhelmed, despairing, confused or scared. These are expected
If people around you don't understand mental distress, you may feel
ashamed that you have to use specialist mental health services or
you may feel some fear because you don't know what the services are
going to do to you.
If someone else has made the decisions for you, you may feel
powerless or angry.
Some people feel relief when they start to use services - at last
someone may be able to understand and help you.
Whatever you feel, it's OK and it's part of your recovery
Once you get into mental health services, don't be afraid to ask
questions about what is happening to you.