In the last five and a half years since Canterbury was struck by the tragic earthquakes, the need for access to mental health services has increased yearly. People are stressed for all sorts of different reasons relating to the damage and after effects of the earthquakes and these are exacerbated for many every time there is another quake. A lot of people who had been otherwise mentally sound all their lives, even in the years immediately after the quakes are these days breaking down over the smallest things because they’ve had to be strong for for too long and they can’t cope anymore. PTSD rates have soared, in both children and adults.
The government wants to slash 140 million dollars from health funding across the country. To me this seems ridiculous. Health services are one of the most important and needed in the world and the fact that New Zealand offers a large number of free or subsidised services to it’s citizens is great and something I don’t take for granted as there are other countries that are not so lucky, but these funds should be increasing each year as the population increases, not decreasing!
An area that is coming under scrutiny for cuts to help meet these savings, is the mental health funding in Canterbury, which is not high enough as it is. Already Canterburys funding is is $21 less per person than the national average and they want to slash that by another $15. Mental health services have been struggling for years with the increased need for services and now they are expected to struggle more. A much needed service for people with mental illness, Latnam House was recently forced to look at closure. After fundraising and donations were successful it was able to downsize and merge with MHAPS, another much needed service for people struggling, that already has sky-rocketing waiting lists.
I’ve mentioned MHAPS in my blog a few times. It has been an absolute lifeline for me, without it, I would not be doing as well as I am now and I know this is true for many other people as well. They offer one on one peer support services, addiction help, courses and workshops specific to all areas of mental health and ongoing support groups for those who need it.
I have attended many of these services and found them invaluable. While I am at a point in my life where I can cope day to day with my mental health, I still attend my support group at MHAPS and I’m no where near being in a position where I could do without this. We meet for an hour and a half fortnightly and I have had days where the only thing that has kept me going is knowing that it’s not long until I can attend group again and feel my sanity come back.
Towards the end of last year, each session started beginning with surveys, where we were asked about our opinions on the need for the groups, what could be improved etc. Over time these surveys have become more and more specific to the point where I’m starting to get stressed about losing this service, even though the facilitators are fighting to keep them. The fact is, the funding is not there and MHAPS is having to look at every single thing they do and where they can cut costs. If the support groups are able to stay operating as they are at the moment, cuts will have to be made elsewhere and while I personally have no need for other services, I’m not okay with cuts anywere as every single service they offer is necessary.
I left my support group last night more stressed than when I entered it, which has never happened to me before. I’m concerned the group is going to be cut or that there are going to be time use restrictions put on it to help with the waiting list sizes. Obviously these people on the waiting lists need the service as much as I do, but I don’t see how pushing people through quickly is going to help anyone. Already it’s threatening to backslide some of my progress (which I am doing everything I can to avoid) and I know I’m not the only person who is feeling this way after the increasing number of surveys we have had to take, despite the facilitators assuring us that as yet no changes are happening.
Another service I use through MHAPS, is Mad Poets Society which provides creative outlets and open mic nights for people with mental illnesses can share their art, music, stories and poems in a safe environment with like minded people. It’s a chance for people who have difficulty socialising to meet new people who understand what they are going through and enjoy some free entertainment at the same time. They recently had to reach out for fundraising to be able to continue the nights and classes they provide. The reason was simple: The service was no longer being funded. They were lucky enough to raise the money they needed to continue for 2016 but what about next year?
And most importantly, what about the crisis section of the mental health sector? People at breaking point are being turned away from services that could help because there is no room for them. Unless they are a danger to themselves or others, people are being turned away all the time, forcing them further down. The number of police callouts for suicide attempts has also doubled, an alarming fact that can’t go ignored.
Canterbury needs more mental health funding, plain and simple. In an ideal world, they would all have enough funding to hire more staff, make more crisis services available, run more workshops and courses, have enough support groups to meet demands and have an excess of funding that they could use to increase services all the time, as the needs arise. Obviously this will never happen, but the cracks are starting to show on an already stretched service that is becoming even more stretched with each funding cut.
Despite the CDHB appealing to the government about the current state of mental illness in Canterbury, it looks like these cuts are going to go ahead, stretching services and giving the citizens of Canterbury no where to go at a time that they need it most. While there is little that we can do about this, we don’t have to remain silent. There is a petition going around that can be signed here and other options include writing letters to our MPs, explaining our concerns and needs. Mental health is not the only area that needs more funding as opposed to cuts, but it’s one where we currently have a chance to be heard. We have a voice, let’s use it!
Smiles and Sunshine