The broken system, part 1: Understaffed and overworked

Parts two, three, and four

The NZ mental health system is a hell of a lot better than many other countries, I’ll admit – it exists, and it’s free. But it has some massive problems that let some very unwell people fall through the cracks.

The system is madly understaffed, and the staff are madly overworked.

Most psychiatrists are part time, working only one or two days a week, and filling the rest of their time in the private or educational sectors. This creates heavy demand for the few appointments they have available – appointment times which are shortened by the need to document everything. This leads to an uncomfortable rush for most patients.

The less-exalted members of the mental health team – nurses, social workers, therapists and so on – are no less rushed. Their case loads are far above what they can realistically handle, because there are not enough staff to cover the caseload. At one stage in my treatment I was supposed to see a social worker, but there were none available, so I was assigned to an occupational therapist simply because she had a slot for me. This sort of thing is rampant, and it leads to suboptimal care for the patient, and a suboptimal work environment for the staff.

Burnout rates are high. While I don’t have any hard data, in my experience many staff burn out within a couple of years. This is rough on the staff member, but also on the patient who has formed a relationship with ‘their’ worker.

It’s a system trying to do too much with too little, and it’s not good enough. Mental health patients deserve better. Mental health workers deserve better. But we’re downtrodden enough to let it slide.

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3 thoughts on “The broken system, part 1: Understaffed and overworked

  1. Pingback: The Broken System, part 2: Continuity of care | Drop Bear Exterminator

  2. Pingback: The Broken System, part 3: the Community Model | Drop Bear Exterminator

  3. Pingback: The Broken System, part 4: You’re Not Sick Enough | Drop Bear Exterminator

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