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.
I get really, really worried when people I’m working with say things like “I went with my gut on that decision”, “The heart wants what the heart wants”, or “I just did what felt right”, as if feelings were the primary arbiter for an accurate, wise, or favourable outcome being (most often not) attained.
The trouble with relying on feelings is that, well, our feelings can actually lie to us.
How many times have you wrongly taken offence when none was intended? Got the “wrong end of the stick”? Made a wrong assumption based on a “hunch”?
In my line of work, a common catch-cry is that people have to ‘get in touch with their feelings’, however I have found that not only are people in crisis often already marinating in their feelings; they are doing so to the point of risking cognitive and emotional asphyxia (which is one of the reasons they are so bloody miserable).
In 2015, a US Social Worker by the name of Amy Morin, a woman well-acquainted with an avalanche of her own personal grief experiences, penned a thesis about what fundamental mental and emotional wellbeing actually looked like – and ‘getting in touch with your feelings’ just didn’t make the cut.
Through her own personal recovery/discovery, conducting research reviews, and tapping into practice-based client experience themes, Morin identified 13 key principles that assisted people to ‘be in their right mind’ when journeying through their lives.
Have a look at the list below, and see which of these may apply to you (or not) in terms of how you operate in your world:
· They don’t waste time feeling sorry for themselves.
· They don’t give away their power to the opinions and perceptions of others.
· They don’t shy away from change.
· They don’t focus on things they can’t control.
· They don’t worry about pleasing everyone.
· They don’t fear taking calculated risks.
· They don’t dwell on the past.
· They don’t make the same mistakes over and over again.
· They don’t resent other peoples success.
· They don’t give up after the first failure.
· They don’t fear alone time.
· They don’t feel that the world owes them anything.
· They don’t expect immediate results.
Clearly, there is a lot more to attaining sound mental and emotional wellbeing than just how we feel, and a strong theme in the above list is one of decisional and influential limits: to know and accept our own.
Feelings are part of the package of human existence – however they are both unreliable and insufficient for living an ultimately fulfilled life.
If you are disappointed, angry, or upset at reading that last line – hey, it’s just a feeling.
168 hours. That’s how many hours there are in a week.
Assuming that we attain 8 hours sleep a night over 7 days (56), work 8 hours a day over 5 days (40), spend 2 hours a day over 5 days per week getting ready for, and travelling to and from work (10), and use 2 hours per day over 7 days preparing and eating 3 meals (14), that leaves us with 48 hours per week, or approximately 7 hours per day per 7 day week to do other things.
Sounds like a lot of time, doesn’t it?
But now add “parent” into the mix. School pick-ups and drop-offs? Add 5 hours a week. After school sports, activities, or music lessons? Add 4 hours a week. Grocery shopping, errands, home maintenance requirements, minor emergencies and “to do” lists? Add 10 hours a week.
Now we are down to 29 hours a week, or approximately 4 hours a day over a 7 day week.
Yet a 2016 study revealed that New Zealanders spend an average of 23 hours a week watching TV, and 15 hours a week using electronic devices, for a total of 38 hours week.
Clearly, something doesn’t add up.
Most often, what informs our decisions and choices in terms of how we utilise our time is dependent not upon wisdom, but upon feelings. Interestingly, it seems that people who are guided primarily by how they “feel” often lack the ability to say no to themselves, or to others – thus all expectations become seen by default as reasonable expectations.
The inevitable outcome is that in the absence of self-discipline, the modern-day worker, parent, or partner risks becoming burnt out, collapsing in exhaustion, physical deterioration, or seeking respite in unhelpful ways to them or others (e.g. it’s not unusual for an affair to be initiated from a position of one feeling trapped, powerless, exhausted, or neglected).
When I hear of the weekly timetables, commitments, and endeavours people share with me, I am often struck by the maths just not adding up in terms of number of commitments alongside time available to complete them.
When I suggest a review and consolidation of these weekly schedules, it is remarkable to me how many people simply haven’t considered that a re-negotiation of their expectations was even an option, until I raised it as one.
Our expectations are to serve us, not enslave us, so if you find yourself saying “I’m too busy”, then please, give yourself permission to re-negotiate the terms, conditions, and commitments of your life, and choose wisdom over feelings.
No-one will be harmed if you start setting some boundaries.
Anyone who has endured the stress of selling a property will be familiar with the practice of the ‘open home’, whereby you allow someone you barely know (a real estate agent) to display your property, possessions, and privacy to other people you don’t know at all! When you return to your home, you have no idea of who has visited, which closet or draws they went into, or their true intentions regarding their visit.
The same goes for social media: an unprotected page or account without any appropriate privacy settings (or monitored access for the young ones) is akin to telling the great wide world “help yourself”.
I recently conducted a ‘sweep’ of the rules regarding various social media applications, having noticed younger and younger people accessing social media platforms at whim.
It turns out that 13 and 16 and 18 are key age markers for social media subscribers – and almost every parent I spoke to about this issue wasn’t even aware that age-access limits existed.
Legally, parents in New Zealand are not allowed to leave their children home alone until age 14 owing to risk, yet many children are happily left alone within cyberspace by parents and caregivers, digitally abandoned to face a myriad of risks on their own.
I’ve visited a few open homes, but I have never attended one in which a child was left unattended. It just wouldn’t make sense. Similarly, parents allowing children unfettered access to social media, absent of privacy and search filters, parental settings and supervision doesn’t make sense either.
Our children can have a tough enough time standing up for themselves when a confrontation is 1:1, but when the odds are 10:1, or 100;1, or 1000:1, and when your enemy is an avatar, then it is perhaps understandable why cyber-bullying and social media-induced suicide is becoming more noticeable of late.
As parents, we are not charged with the responsibility of being popular with our children, but rather for being effective for our children.
Setting some rules and boundaries with our children around the use of social media (including our own use, come to think of it) can be awkward, fraught, and draining.
However, if doing so mitigates a child’s risk profile for online bullying, then as a parent myself, I would pick ‘awkward, fraught, and draining’ over the potential alternative.
A few years back, there was a shocking case of a defenseless Whanganui school student being punched, kicked and stomped by what can only be described as an out-of-control student. I warned then, and I continue to warn now that parents of school children may wish to challenge the wisdom of the various anti-bullying programmes available in our schools. I say this because the research evidence to date is quite clear – these programmes, so championed by the Ministry of Education and various academic and professional “experts”, don’t actually work.
Numerous reports have revealed that anti-bullying programmes failed in around 85% of their applications. One study which cited an 80% failure rate in reducing bullying, found that restorative justice programmes - long championed by the Ministry of Education - actually increased the occurrences of students being bullied.
Other harmful effects of anti-bullying programmes have been identified as the emerging of a victim mentality in students (further empowering bullies), wrongful punishment for victims, diverting class time to deal with bullying issues, turning students against each other, and creating family feuds.
As parents, the State charges us with the responsibility of being the guardians of our children. Part of this role involves parents teaching our children how to stand up for themselves, and (while it may sound unpalatable to some) this includes physical self-defence. The State cannot reasonably expect parents to teach children how to look after themselves in every other area of their life (e.g. self-care, sexual health, alcohol use, and social media) whilst ignoring the very real need to also teach our children how to fight and fend for themselves in the world.
Of the 24 punches, two knees to the head, and one head stomping in the assault on the Whanganui student, each and every one of these blows made by the perpetrator went unanswered by the victim. The resource the victim most desperately needed - the ability in that moment to fight back for her potential survival - was dangerously absent.
In my professional and personal opinion, any programme, philosophy, or law that undermines or chastises a person for legitimate self-defence, is itself, an abusive bully.
To this end, I am a strong supporter of children (and adults for that matter) learning effective self-defence strategies, my own personal preference being Krav Maga, an Israeli self-defence system which is very, very effective in real-world contexts.
School anti-bullying programmes are ineffective across the board – just ask your children. And then enrol them in a local self-defence programme.
If the time ever comes when they are faced with the decision to defend themselves, at least they will have more resources at their disposal then blood-soaked clothing and a pending restorative justice conference.
It’s been happening for weeks now. The rapid onset of Christmas began around October in some retail stores, and was fortified by the recent “Black Friday” sales. Suddenly, as if we weren’t already under enough stress, our minds and hearts are pulled towards presents, pressure, and performance.
For anyone feeling broke, vulnerable, lonely, or burnt out, ‘peak times’ such as Christmas are not much fun at all - so much so that in extreme cases, some consider ‘ending it all’. Clinically, this is known as ‘suicidal ideation’.
Suicidal ideation is the process of thinking about, considering, or planning suicide, and can be brought on by a deep and abiding sense of inadequacy, self-loathing, making unfavorable comparisons with others, holding to an unrealistic ideal or expectation, and even being ungrateful for what we already have (any of these sound familiar around this time of year?)
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.