Critical challenges remain in transforming Aotearoa New Zealand’s approach to mental wellbeing

Aotearoa New Zealand’s focus on wellbeing is a step in the right direction but critical challenges remain in transforming our approach to mental health and addiction, says outgoing Mental Health Commissioner Kevin Allan.

In an open letter to the Minister of Health, Mr Allan acknowledged greater focus and investment on wellbeing, and progress on some He Ara Oranga recommendations, but he remains concerned about the lack of an action plan for the rest of the Inquiry’s recommendations.

“It’s over two years since the He Ara Oranga report was delivered, and there is considerable concern from sector leaders, and the community, about the absence of a clear long-term plan to implement He Ara Oranga,” said Mr Allan.

“I welcome the Minister of Health’s recent commitment to remedying this by working with officials on a whole-of-government pathway to transform New Zealand’s approach to mental health and addiction.

“I also welcome his expectation that this pathway is developed swiftly and with wide-ranging engagement. I welcome this and specifically encourage engagement with Māori, people with lived experience and their whānau, many of whom already contributed extensively to He Ara Oranga.

“COVID-19 has undoubtedly increased mental distress in our communities. However, the numerous iwi, community and sector initiatives that emerged offer lessons for what we can do to promote wellbeing.

“This demonstrates the dedication and flexibility of people working in the sector, and the power of New Zealanders to improve the wellbeing of their whānau and communities. This bodes well for transformation.

“As I end my term as Mental Health Commissioner, I acknowledge all those I have worked with across the sector – tāngata whaiora and their whānau, sector leaders and service providers – and wish them well as they work with the government to transform our approach to mental health and addiction.

New Zealand is fortunate to have so many people with a high level of commitment, talent, generosity of spirit and hope,” Mr Allan said.

From Tuesday 9 February 2021, Mr Allan will hand over oversight of monitoring mental health and addiction services and advocating for their improvement to the new Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission.

“I strongly support the new Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission. It will play a vital role in making sure that change happens, people across New Zealand can get the mental health and addiction support they need and outcomes are equitable,” said Mr Allan.

“HDC looks forward to working closely with the new Commission as we continue to look at people’s complaints about mental health and addiction services,” he said.

People who want to make a complaint about the care they or others have experienced at a mental health and addiction service should still contact the HDC.

HDC continues to act as an independent watchdog for people’s rights when using health and disability services, resolving complaints, and holding providers to account for improving their practices at an individual and system-wide level.


Letters between the Mental Health Commissioner and Ministers of Health

5 March 2021: Health and Disability Commissioner welcomes mental health and wellbeing report
3 February 2021: Open letter to the Minister of Health

2 February 2021: Minister of Health’s response to recommendations from June 2020 monitoring and advocacy report

10 November: Letter to the new Minister of Health on pressing need for action plan on mental wellbeing reforms

24 July 2020: Previous Minister of Health’s response on pressing need for action plan on mental wellbeing reforms

7 July 2020: Letter to previous Minister of Health on pressing need for action plan for mental wellbeing reforms

June 2020 Monitoring and Advocacy Report of the Mental Health Commissioner