Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Social Bonds for Mental Health are SCARY. Here's what you can do.

From where I'm sitting, as somebody recently discharged from hospital and presently going through a WINZ-moderated pathway towards re-employment and getting myself back on my feet ... the Government's recent announcement that mentally ill New Zealanders are about to be subjected to an experiment in policy called "Social Bonds" is hella, hella scary.

Forget energy company privatization- that's a right-wing evil of a cold, impersonal and ultimately predictable nature.

Social bonds, by contrast, are new. Untested. Frightening.

Because while we can reasonably predict some of the pernicious and detrimental effects that will flow from this policy - as the commodification of human beings, and profiteering from human misery can only go so many ways - there are still many details which are yet to be hammered out in the cold light of day.

One factoid which ought to raise hackles for both mentally ill and resoundingly sane voters-cum-taxpayers alike, is the fact that the social bond scheme might actually wind up costing *more* to deliver than current mental health services. Again, for a highly uncertain return in terms of rehabilitation and reintegration as applies some of our most vulnerable citizens.

Bill English can't even tell us whether the private sector investors stumping up cash on the condition you get better, will be paid out a fiscal return of 5% or anywhere up to SEVENTEEN percent.

With so many unknowns attached to the policy, it's not surprising people are skeptical about why we're doing it in the first place.

And when you think about the possible motivations, it's hard to come up with anything other than a severely disappointing impression that Government has decided that in many cases, helping the mentally ill ... just simply isn't its problem any more.

Instead, the private sector is being left to pick up the slack from out of the "too hard" basket; in the vain hopes that this somehow generates an improved set of outcomes as compared to the status quo.

Because let's be honest.

What we're doing right now, as a society, is *also* not coming up with the goods.

I don't think it's an exaggeration in the slightest to insist that New Zealand is presently facing a Mental Health Crisis.

Whether we're talking about the ongoing (and unaddressed) psychological impacts of seismic events down in Canterbury; the way Government has consciously chosen to underfund services dealing with the aftermath of sexual violence like RapeCrisis; or even simply the everyday run-of-the-mill experience of the average mentally ill person working their way through the public health system ... in many cases, it's simply not working.

Therefore, one thing many commentators are united upon when they talk about the Social Bonds program, is the point that something needs to change.

And it's my challenge to ALL our Opposition parties - heck, even the Government and its lapdog support partners - to actually stump up with the goods and DEMONSTRATE that they've been thinking, consulting, and conceptualizing what we might do differently. In ways that will actually work FOR our mentally unwell whaunau - rather than as business opportunities available for the government's rich mates.

One idea which we might like to explore ... and I know this might sound radical and revolutionary ... is actually putting money into frontline services that deal with these issues.

Because seriously. If Bill English, as Finance Minister, is quite comfortable saying "we don't mind it being more expensive if we get results" about his precious social bonds policy - I feel quite entitled to ask why EXACTLY THE SAME LOGIC has not been applied to more conventional approaches to sorting and supporting the mental health concerns of our citizenry.


Now as for what you can do:

You might not be a psychotherapist, counselor, or cutting-edge PhD researcher at some tertiary institute somewhere. You might not even be in a position to directly support someone with mental health woes (or, perhaps, offer them a job).

But one thing we ALL can do is add our signatures and our voice to the Action Station petition on this issue presently in circulation. At the time of writing, it's on just under 7,000 signatures - and will be presented when it's hit the target of 10,000.

Beyond that, one thing I'll definitely be doing - and something which I am URGING anyone else politically engaged who's got a perspective to contribute on the present workings of our mental health system - is writing to MPs and other decision-makers.

Because most of them don't have direct engagement nor experience with these parts of either the public health system or Work and Income. I can't speak for all of them - but I can say with certainty that it's highly unlikely that many of those at the highest level of our politics have a strong grasp of what it's actually like to be either seriously mentally ill, or to have to support somebody on a path to wellness from some of the darkest places a mind can bare.

MPs are only as good as their information-flows and understanding. They've often got a capacious depth of goodwill, understanding and capacity for empathy - and that is commendable.

But if we're serious about doing mental health better in this country ... then that means helping our legislators to make the right choices.

And whether by signing your name to a petition; submitting to a Select Committee hearing; or calling up your Party's Social Development spokesperson to have a yarn (Hi Darroch) ...

If we want better policy, it's time we spoke up and helped inform them what it looks like.

Over to you.

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