Mental distress and illness is a serious public health issue in New Zealand. According to the Ministry of Health, nearly 47% of New Zealanders will experience mental illness and/or addiction at some stage in their lives. New Zealand has high rates of anxiety, mood and substance disorders, so much so that mental disorders are the third-leading cause of health loss. Conditions leading the charge are anxiety and depressive disorders (accounting for 5.3% of health loss), alcohol use disorders (2.1%) and schizophrenia (1.3%). * Women, young people, Maori and Pasifika people are consistently over-represented in mental health statistics along with those experiencing deprivation. Instances of comorbidity (the co-occurrence of two or more disorders) are common.
Along with high rates of depression, New Zealand’s rate of youth suicide is among the highest in the developed world according to a 2017 UNICEF report. The rate of teenagers (between 15-19 years of age) committing suicide stands at 15.6 suicides per 100,000 people - twice as high as the USA rate and almost five times that of Britain. These alarming statistics are thought to be triggered factors that include childhood poverty, high rates of teenage pregnancy, family violence, ingrained cultural stoicism and school bullying.
Although there is no denying this is a bleak picture, a shift towards better mental healthcare understanding and provision is slowly taking place. Public awareness of New Zealand’s mental health crisis has certainly increased over the last few years and pressure on government to make significant changes has been mounting. In last year’s national election, New Zealand’s main political parties both campaigned on making mental health a key priority.
In January 2018, shortly after coming to power, the new Labour government instigated an extensive inquiry to gain a realistic overview of mental health. This inquiry is being led by former health and Disability Commissioner, Ron Paterson and has a broad scope, including primary and secondary care. It will focus on prevention but will also look at equity of access to quality services. It is hoped that the report, due back to government in October 2018, will provide a blueprint of action that will improve mental health outcomes across the country in the years ahead.
Until then, family doctors remain at the forefront of primary care, involved with the initial assessment, treatment and management of patients presenting with mental health concerns. Despite, for some, the obstacle of the cost of GP visits, over the past two years the number of people seen by a GP with a diagnosed mental health issue has increased by 22%. The Ministry of Health has a list of key initiatives and organisations that GPs can reference online. The Ministry also advocates a ‘stepped care’ approach, which can be seen in this infographic provided by Compass Health, a PHO based in the lower North Island. The Ministry of Health has published clinical guidelines for primary health care professionals that can help them to identify and manage common mental disorders. The ministry also has a best-practice guideline that helps GPs know how to support Maori experiencing mental health of addiction issues.
If you have an interest in mental health and wellbeing or are considering locum medical jobs in New Zealand, our Ochre Recruitment consultants would love to hear from you. As well as being able to discuss GP demands more fully, with a wealth of experience behind them, they are also able to tailor medical jobs in New Zealand to your specific needs. So, give them a call today!
*Mental Health Foundation statistics from 2014