The 2019 “Wellbeing” Budget was launched recently with much fanfare, not least because a significant proportion of the budget was earmarked for mental health expenditure.
A $1.9 billion package has been allocated over five years across a range of portfolios including health, education, corrections, justice and housing, namely:
At first glance, this expenditure looks impressive.
However, since 1994 there have been 50 (yes, 50) reports into the poor state of mental health services and outcomes in New Zealand, for no meaningful improvement in mental health service delivery over this time.
No-one is measuring the outcome effectiveness of the money being spent, or the quality of service delivery for people receiving mental health services.
Formal measurement of client feedback is nothing new, but it’s both virtually non-existent within mental health services in New Zealand, and a seemingly unwelcome topic of discussion within the mental health sector.
Apparently, while it’s legitimate for a Denny’s Restaurant to seek client feedback on its $8.50 budget breakfast, clients of publicly funded mental health services don’t get to have a meaningful influence or say on the services that they are on the sharp end of receiving.
The thinking and practice of not formally measuring client outcomes in the mental health field belongs in the dark ages, and needs to change if the above budget figures are to have any reasonable opportunity for success.
Evidence-informed policy is important as well.
For example, some critics of the 2019 mental health services budget claim that it will take several years to train sufficient people to work in the sector.
It doesn’t take “several years” to train someone to work effectively with other people in mental health – the outcome evidence reveals it takes around 50 hours.
But no-one in Government seems to be reading the outcome evidence – mores the pity.
A local restaurant writes a joke on a sidewalk chalkboard; a riding club posts a photo of pony rides featuring a thin but healthy pony; a private individual, away from work, and in their own time, expresses a personal political opinion on a private Facebook page.
These seemingly every-day events get shared on social media, by a minority group member of the perpetually offended.
All hell breaks loose online.
In response to this furore, the restaurant owner publicly tells the critics of the chalkboard joke to get stuffed and lighten up, the riding club moves to close down its business, and the private individual is immediately sacked from their job.
It has been said that ‘power is, as power is perceived’, and the perpetrators of ‘call-out’ culture currently couldn’t be happier, as they are illegitimately assigned power way beyond their actual influential reach, by those fragile individuals and businesses who are seemingly afraid of their own corporate shadow.
In a world of online reviews, ‘likes’, ‘swipe rights’, and ‘comments’ threads, businesses in particular have caught this paper-tiger cold.
So, what did the restaurant owner above know, that the riding club and the employer who sacked their staff member didn’t know?
The restaurant owner had learned that if you didn’t get into the water and try and stop the wave, then the wave would eventually run out of energy, and quickly disappear.
Not so the riding club or the employer above.
They both dived into the water headfirst, then struggled first to meet the wave, then control it, then sympathise with it, and then enable it by doing what the wave ultimately wanted to do – crash into them and take them out.
To make matters worse, they then made sacrifices to the call-out culture deity that they didn’t have to make, the casualties being children who could no longer ride ponies, and an employee who could no longer pay his mortgage.
Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and even the mainstream media - in the main, these digital platforms are simply echo chambers for what is most often like-minded opinion. Too much power is given away to these opinions, especially by businesses who lose sight of what they do well, falling instead into the trap of trying to be all things to all people.
My none-too-subtle response to this online bullying practice is a simple one: it’s time to stand up to the bullies, and not allow oneself to be pushed around by the opinions of other people, online or otherwise.
Steve is the Director of Relationship Matters Ltd. He holds two applied Bachelor's degrees (Counselling & Addiction) and a P.G. Dip. in Applied Social Practice. Steve is married with two children and lives in West Auckland.