Our first job was “to hear the voices of the community, people with lived experience of mental health and addiction challenges, people affected by suicide, and people involved in preventing and responding to mental health and addiction challenges, on Aotearoa New Zealand’s current approach to mental health and addiction, and what needs to change” (from the Terms of Reference, see Appendix A). We did this by inviting public submissions (in writing or other formats), holding public meetings around the country, and meeting with groups and individuals with personal or professional experience of New Zealand’s mental health and addiction services.
We heard from thousands of people through written and online submissions and in public meetings and discussions with individuals and organisations. The experiences, insights and views expressed together give an overall picture of mental health and addiction in New Zealand, which reflects both heartbreak and hope.
We heard from tāngata whaiora; literally, people seeking wellness. They talked about their struggle to access help for mental distress and addictions and evoked the image of being “up to their necks in deep water”. 23 People shared deeply personal experiences, motivated by a desire to tell their stories and bring about change.
We also heard from families, whānau and close friends 24 and from front-line staff in mental health and addiction services 25 - two groups strongly allied to tāngata whaiora, but with different perspectives.
We also had numerous submissions from professional and representative bodies, government agencies, district health boards (DHBs), non-governmental organisations (NGOs), Māori and Pacific providers of health and social services, and a wide range of advocacy and community organisations. In different ways they reiterated much of what we had heard from individuals but also added perspectives that addressed limited resources, limited reach and consequent limited impact of their own efforts.
We have sought to present the voices of the people as faithfully as possible, using headings that capture their main themes.
23 From the Tongan proverb (Fe'ofa'aki kakau ('the love of swimmers').
24 Families may struggle to provide help when they too are up to their necks in water.
25 In the proverb mentioned in footnote 23, the tufuga/tufunga or specialists on the front line are the fishermen and navigators who seek to rescue the people in the water.