Mental health in Christchurch

An article came out today, telling me some things that I thought everyone must know about post-earthquake Canterbury, and some things that I didn’t know, things that make me both angry and sad.

Mental health issues have become more prevalent in Christchurch since the quakes, something that is entirely expected, at least from where I stand. People who have been through a major traumatic event, like a huge earthquake, are more likely to have PTSD relating to the event, but are also more likely to have other mental health issues like anxiety or depression triggered by the circumstances and the pressure they are under. Zero surprises here.

The statistics are startling but not surprising:

– 43 per cent increase in adult community mental health presentations.
– 37 per cent increase in emergency presentations.
– 69 per cent increase in child and youth mental health service presentations, which would be higher without CDHB’s schools programme.
– 65 per cent increase in rural mental health presentations.

Canterbury District Health Board has a lot on its plate to deal with. In addition to the increase in mental health presentations following the quakes, 30,000 people moved into the area post-quake to help with the rebuild, and those people have a range of mental health issues, just like any other population. The problem here is that mental health services in Canterbury have received less than a puny 1% increase in funding, with even the growth in population ignored, never mind the increase in the incidence of mental illnesses in the area.

The lack of funding makes me angry and sad. At bare minimum, there should have been a funding increase in line with population growth. To present themselves as having even a scrap of humanity, the architects of the health budget needed to have acknowledged the effects of the quakes on people’s mental states and provided at least a token gesture toward relieving the pressure on an overstretched service. But none of that has happened, and it is disgraceful.

Where now for CDHB’s mental health service? Well, it’s the same as everywhere else in the country, scrambling to try and make things work on a shoestring budget. It’s worse for them than many others, but two things they have going for them is a well-performing service before the quakes, and the amazing resilience that people, communities, and institutions have shown in the last four years. They shouldn’t be struggling with this, though. We can do better, damn it, and why don’t we?

We’ve prioritised a bloody convention centre over so may more important projects. Health services of all kinds go without. Social housing has been 98% destroyed, and the shortfall has not been addressed in any useful measure. There are still people living in garages and tents, struggling through the winter, because their houses are written off and their insurance hasn’t come through. There is overcrowding due to a lack of suitable and affordable housing in the area. Why on earth would we need a conference centre, which will be empty for significant stretches of time, when there are so many other, more urgent needs? The misguided waste of it all is painful.

The Canterbury region has suffered mightily these past four years, and yet still the carry on. We should be supporting them in any way we can, not letting them down as attention drifts away from their needs due to the passing of time and the waning of urgency.

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