NZ Herald Column Kyle MacDonald

Why asking for help with mental health is so hard

This is my column this week in the New Zealand Herald, which is published in the digital edition every Thursday...

It hasn’t been easy putting together a national review of mental health services with four people, volunteer help and no budget. But it’s nothing compared to the courage over 500 people had to speak out about their experiences of a system that is supposed to be there to help.

We like to think that talking about depression, anxiety and other difficulties has become easier, and in many ways that’s true. Easier or not, it certainly should lead to help.

Except that 93 per cent of people who told their story to the People’s Mental Health Review were unsatisfied with mental health services, and the most common problem?

Difficulty accessing support.

Despite what we might think, asking for help is hard. Having to open up, reach out, talk to a complete stranger at a time when you feel lost, overwhelmed.

That’s why it is so heartbreaking that we now know for sure that gaining access is the number one difficulty people have with the mental health system. Heartbreaking that when people finally have the courage to reach out, they’re turned away.

At the root of so many people’s experience of mental health challenges is believing their thoughts, feelings and opinions are invalid. This experience of having our emotions written off as wrong, inappropriate, too much, or over the top is damaging. It makes it hard to trust and believe our own emotional responses.

So when the system says “no” it’s no surprise many hear “your feelings don’t matter”. It is also no surprise many give up hope at this point, sometimes with tragic consequences.

No doubt over the next few days there will be many opinions, views and counter-views about what we should now do. We even had a few of our own, as part of our People’s Mental Health Report.

But perhaps we should all take time to do something very simple. Perhaps we should all take the time to stop and listen, listen to the voices of the people who had the courage to risk telling their story in the hope it would make things better. Listen so we can respect their experiences and start fixing things.

From the People’s Mental Health Report:

“Some people said what they really wanted was simply someone who could take the time to listen, and many people said that they wanted mental health professionals to listen to them:

“It’s actually pretty simple. Talk less, listen more. Don’t listen to answer-listen to understand. You have two ears and one mouth-even your own physical body since birth has afforded you a clue that shutting up rather than talking might just be more beneficial.”

Click here to read the full report

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Leave a Comment

  • Geoff April 24, 2017, 10:27 am

    Exactly, I was asked to provide input into the study but failed to do so as some how our story seemed to be outside what could ever be achieved by an outside body. It seems that the only path is a seperate one of pull up your socks and persevere. Anyway for what it’s worth here’s a wee bit of our walk. Better late than never; well maybe.

    Well, I guess being that we have dealt with Mental Health issues for. well, decades, we have learned we just talk to the hand that supposedly supports and I, as a Carer, husband, and the parent just hope we remain intact through thick and thin. 

    Two of us will head back to Australia soon as temporary visa holders over there and leave one of our sick adult children here, as it’s just too hard to come back here; mainly for the purpose of being around our aging parents in their final years and assist our child who has dark nights of the soul. 

    Why would we; we certainly have no future in our native land; everyone has been trained by various authorities to looks at us and treat us as failures and bludgers and if it wasn’t for our whanau we would most certainly be homeless, as the supported living payment is lucky to pay for a roof over our head. (And you want to have beggars arrested!). Australia, in our predicament, has been far more supportive and of course, cost burdens are not as severe. But how would you feel if your tax was supporting a foreign national because their own Government would not provide the necessary practical life support? 

    Suicide then definitely becomes a viable option. Funny really, we went to Australia ten years ago to escape the ever-darkening cloud around us, It is like a black out now. I love NZ, the country is the most beautiful and unique on Earth, the people? Well, not so much; so much discrimination against the down and out. 

    The public has been sold the idea that you are where you are because of your choices in life and you made your bed so lay in it; hook line and sinker. Oh yes, these Dark nights can and do lead to revelation and deliverance but that is truth and love at work as opposed to the synthetic structure that is our Government and Economy. 

    It seems that the NZ public has the two confused through decades of being spoon fed a distinct economic and political ideology that has passed it’s time and has an awful stench to it. 

    I carry this alone as a Carer with Hobsons Choice. Then again what is the solution? At the end of the day, it is what it is; resources are thin and there are many with greater and insurmountable challenges around the globe. So see it, don’t be it and know you have the strength to overcome all adversity as heaven is on Earth, hell is a story of the mind. i Am That; so lift your head and take another step toward the light.

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