Mental health system criticised


    A SOUTHLAND woman feels she has been let down by the mental health system.

    About two months ago she called the Southland Mental Health Emergency Team (SMHET) after trying to take her own life — but she was still waiting for a call back from them.

    With the increasing number of suicides in the region, she was worried there was not enough help for people struggling with mental health in the community.

    The woman, who asked not to be named, tried to take her own life on June 21.

    “I was in complete desperation and helplessness. I no longer wanted to live. I was in an extremely dark and vulnerable state.

    “Death was the only answer for me – I felt like a burden to everyone and I felt that I was too hard to be loved by my family members and friends. Suicide was the best way out.”

    But it was a memory of her children which brought a flash of hope and strength to look for help, she said, so she called SMHET at Southland Hospital and spoke with a staff member.

    She explained the whole situation and told her she had tried to take her own life. However, she felt the staff member “downplayed” the situation.

    The staff member then told her she was on a callout in Bluff but would call her back in about an hour.

    Instead of a phonecall, the woman was visited by two police officers.

    She felt shocked and panicked thinking something had happened to one of her family members but the officers explained they were there for a “well-being check”.

    “I had a chat with them about what had happened and they were very casual about it all. They seemed disinterested and yet again I felt unheard and unseen.

    “The police were busy looking around my house, saying what a nice home that I had and that I looked fine. I explained that I may look fine, but my head was in a very dark place.”

    She said the conversation took about 15 minutes and they left – “that was all”.

    The woman thought SMHET would still phone her back or at least check on her but she did not hear anything from them. She has since approached the SMHET several times to raise her concerns but she still felt unheard.

    “I have battled with depression and I have reached out for help a few times over the years and I have been let down over and over again. Just like many other people have.

    “This is disgusting. Our suicide stats [in Southland] are at an all-time high. And you reach for help and get pushed away.”

    Southern District Health Board’s (SDHB) Mental Health, Addictions and Intellectual Disability general manager Louise Travers said she could not comment on individual patients for reasons of privacy.

    However, she said each phonecall SMHET received was answered by a mental health professional, who triaged the call on the information gathered and a plan was developed from the information obtained, with the safety of the patient and family as a priority.

    This would include follow-up if assessed as necessary, she said.

    “If someone is threatening imminent self-harm, the process is the police are called, as they are the first responders in situations like this.

    “We are always happy to review individual patients’ care, and discuss with them the reasons for a particular response.”

    She said SMHET was not always the appropriate service to deal with people’s psychological distress, particularly if they were engaged with other services for support.

    “Incidents involving current patients of the service who have been seen face-to-face are reviewed with a psychiatrist, either in person or as part of a team.”

    SMHET received between 600 and 800 calls a month, she said.

    Southland Police Area Commander Inspector Mike Bowman said police received 58,124 calls nationwide last year involving a person having a mental health crisis, in distress, or threatening suicide.

    The responsibility for providing services primarily rested with mental health services and police provided assistance where legislation provided for police intervention.

    Frontline police staff underwent mental health training as recruits, and police had refresher e-learning modules available for all staff, he said.

    “Mental health-related crisis and distress calls to police are complex and vary in severity, often involve non-offenders, and require co-ordination of cross sector services to respond appropriately.

    “Each person’s circumstances are unique and it is important that people in mental distress and crisis get the right help at the right time.”

    Meanwhile, the report Time for Change – Te Hurihanga was released last week and reviewed the SDHB’s mental health, addictions and intellectual disability services.

    About 500 people in Southland and Otago were spoken to and among the key recommendations of the report were hiring more staff to help people in crisis, day services to become community well-being hubs with a focus on Invercargill and Dunedin; increased funding for Maori providers from 2% of the mental health budget to at least 6%; create a new mental health and addiction services executive role; introduce a mental health and addiction services workforce development plan.

    SDHB chief executive Chris Fleming said the board accepted the report and was committed to funding the change.

    Where to get help:

    • 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP) (available 24/7)
    • Youthline: 0800 376 633
    • Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
    • Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
    • Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm-11pm)
    • Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 or text 4202
    • National anxiety 24-hour helpline: 0800 269 4389