10 Oct 2016

Taking mental health out of the shadows

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 1:23 pm on 10 October 2016

Today is World Mental Health Day, and AUT is holding an annual event that focuses on psychological and mental health ‘first aid’ for all.

Its goal is to take mental health problems out of the shadows

AUT psychology and public health professor Max Abbot says many more New Zealanders receive treatment for mental illness now than ever before, but “there are cracks appearing and there may even be chasms” in our system.

He says it's time to “step back a bit and look at where we need to go” and the way to assess our mental health as a nation is through regular comprehensive surveys, of which we’ve only had one so far.

Surveys would not only keep our mental health services on track, but also quantify the support that is available to people, how they are accessing it and how they experience it.

“When you look at services, all that tells you is who’s accessing the services. It doesn’t tell you about the people who aren’t or the prevalence of disorders in the community.

“You hear about cases where things sound pretty grim, but you tend not to hear about – and it’s not news – the tens of thousands of people that are accessing care and satisfied with it."

The mental health of a nation is a complicated picture coloured by wider socio-economic concerns, Professor Abbott says.

“Problems with getting adequate accommodation for example, unemployment, social inequality, prejudice and discrimination – these are all things that contribute to mental health problems”.

If you suspect a friend or acquaintance is struggling with mental illness, the best way to offer ‘psychological first aid’ is often to simply start talking and listening, says Professor Abbott.

"The first thing is being able to express your observations and concern and be open about talking with the person in a non-judgemental, open way. If they don’t want to, it may well be there is somebody else they would feel comfortable talking about it with."

Professor Max Abbott is the dean of AUT's Faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences, he's a professor of Psychology and Public Health. And the former president of the World Federation for Mental Health, and founding national director of the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand.

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