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How people power won $1.9b for mental health in Budget 2019

Whānau Wellbeing

Three years ago, ActionStation was approached by psychotherapist Kyle MacDonald with an idea to launch a ‘people’s inquiry’ into the state of our mental health system.

Marianne Elliott, Kyle MacDonald and David Clark holding a sign that says “Thank you for listening minister. We look forward to working with you to help ensure mental health services are safe, affordable, accessible and rights-based for everyone in Aotearoa NZ”.

Mental health advocates had been calling for an inquiry only to be shut down time and again by then-Health Minister Jonathan Coleman. It’s not unusual for politicians who want to maintain their power to silence those who work to reveal the cracks in the services they are responsible for.

So with zero budget, we launched our inquiry with an online survey that collected people’s stories and experiences of the mental health system. We wanted to hear from people who use mental health services, people whose whānau and loved ones use or have used the services and the people who work in them.

We expected maybe 50–100 stories. We collected 500.

We read every story, paired them with conversations with people on the frontline, and put it all into the People’s Mental Health Report that we released with four recommendations for government to fix our mental health system in April 2017.

Copies of the People's Mental Health Report laid out in a row

The report was covered by every news outlet in the country.

For the first time in a long-time, politicians were unable to ignore the voices and perspectives of those with lived experience of our mental health system.

The Health Minister attempted to silence us, claiming we were “anti-government, left-wing protesters”. But his attempt failed.

Shortly after, PSA, the union that serves mental health workers, funded and released independent polling that found nine in ten New Zealanders thought the government needed to do more on mental health.

In Budget 2017, the government relented to public pressure and made a last minute increase to mental health funding. Our people power was working.

Over the next few months, the YesWeCare Coalition took 606 shoes representing those who we have lost to suicide to 38 towns and cities across Aotearoa. People with lived experience of the mental health system and whānau who had lost loved ones stepped up in every one of those places to tell their story in the hope it would create change.

A black and white photo showing 606 shoes in front of parliament.

And change is exactly what they created.

In 2019 the Coalition government “accepted, accepted in principle or agreed to further consider” 38 of the 40 recommendations made by the inquiry into our mental health system.

The government will reinstate independent oversight by establishing a Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission, and change the law that enables compulsory treatment of patients. Both of these are recommendations we made in our report.

The government also allocated a record $1.9 billion for mental health over five years. The Government will set up a new universal frontline mental health service, expected to help 325,000 people with mild to moderate mental health needs by 2024. The new service will put trained mental health providers into doctors’ clinics, iwi health providers and other health services. This is in addition to the previously announced $131 million that has been allocated towards supporting survivors of sexual violence.

Those on the frontline of mental health advocacy have told us there is more work to do, but these changes will save lives. They have put us on the right path towards collective wellbeing.

And while the announcements were made by the Coalition government, the changes were made possible by people like you — and tens of thousands like you — who took action for a better future.

People like Jane Stevens, who after losing her own son Nicky to suicide, supported whānau across the North Island to share their stories, and continues to advocate for justice and respect for whānau within the mental health system.

Journalists like Jess McAllen who has written extensively about what is needed to improve our mental health system.

Celebrities like Mike King who used his platform to mobilise the nation, raise funds and keep mental health front-and-centre on the public agenda.

Mums like Kristina Paterson who has been a staunch advocate for specific mental health support for ante and postnatal depression.

A photo of Zoe Palmer with Green MP Gareth Hughes and Labour MP Paul Eagle of Parliament steps

Or 21 year old Lucy McSweeney who campaigned for better mental health education in all schools:

Wahine Māori like Keri Lawson Te-Aho, Maria Baker, and Leonie Pihama who do important research and advocacy on health from a kaupapa Māori perspective.

Students groups like The Wait Is Over who rallied on Parliament lawn to say the time for action on youth mental health is now.

A group of three girls among the crowd holding signs that say, “Future proof our Rangatahi” and “The wait is over”.

Academics like former mental health commissioner Mary O’Hagan who pushed for people with mental illness, distress and addiction issues to have access to a wide-range of treatments. An ask that has also since been adopted by the Coalition government.

People like the 1,045 rangatahi (young people) who participated in our research on wellbeing and told us they want better mental health support specifically for young people. Research that we have since presented to over 2,000 youth workers, policy makers, and government ministers at various conferences over the past 18 months. You can watch one of those presentations here:

People like Mataku-Ariki de Roo who was one of many who organised Hopewalks in their local communities to awhi (support) all those struggling with mental health.

The 500 who courageously shared their stories with us, the 605 who donated to power our campaign, the 13,000 who signed our petition, and the countless volunteers who gave their time and energy for better mental health.

Where to get help:

  • Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.
  • Lifeline: 0800 543 354
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7)
  • Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7)
  • Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)
  • Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email [email protected]
  • What's Up: online chat (7pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 children's helpline (1pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-10pm weekends)
  • Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)
  • Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254
  • Healthline: 0800 611 116
  • Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
  • Safe to talk National Sexual Harm Helpline - 0800 044 334
  • Victim Support National 24 Hour Helpline 0800 842 846
  • Rape Crisis National 24 Hour Helpline 0800 883 300

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

A quick note from our team: Around Aotearoa and the world there is a small but committed group of people who donate to ActionStation every month. They are some of the unseen heroes in these stories who nurture our campaigns from the moment they spark into existence to the moment they win.

If you feel moved after reading about what we achieved together, please consider setting up a regular contribution. 

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