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Ministry of Health 'silences' criticism about NZ's mental health system — advocate

The Ministry of Health “silences” people who criticise New Zealand’s mental health system, according to an advocate who has been through her own struggles. 

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Voices of Hope co-founder Jazz Thornton says "less talk, more action" for mental health is needed from the Government. Source: Breakfast

Jazz Thornton co-founded non-profit advocacy organisation Voices of Hope after having attempted suicide 14 times throughout her life. The organisation helps others navigate the mental health sector by telling the stories of others who had been through it. 

Source: TVNZ

“I know the system and I know how much the system doesn’t work,” Thornton told Breakfast. 

She said the system continued to not work for people because “there’s a lot of talk but not a lot of action”. 

“The mental health system is functioning the same way that it has for so many years, which is a way that is silencing, which is a way that is discrediting of what people are going through.”

Thornton accused the Ministry of Health’s actions contributed to that.  

“There are a lot of decisions being made in our Ministry [of Health] that does silence people.”

For example, the suicide prevention office would discourage media from talking about certain suicide cases for fear it would scare people and make them not want to ask for help, according to Thornton. 

“But my question is, what’s the danger in not talking about it?” she said. 

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Mental Health Foundation boss accuses official of trying to silence his criticism of Government

Thornton also accused the Ministry of Health of “flashy” announcements.

“What I've seen consistently is these big announcements that are coming up giving people hope, and then there’s no follow-through. We’re seeing that time and time again.”

She also said she felt she received a negative response from the Ministry of Health about The Girl on the Bridge, a documentary critical of New Zealand’s mental health sector. That’s despite the World Health Organization calling the film “tremendously inspiring”. 

Thornton said after the film was released, government-funded mental health organisations that initially supported the project backed out because they couldn’t be seen endorsing something critical of the Ministry of Health. 

“[It] freaked out our Ministry because they don’t like to be criticised.”

The Ministry of Health later responded to Thornton's comments, making particular reference to The Girl on the Bridge documentary.

"In relation to The Girl on the Bridge documentary specifically, the issue was not one of silencing – but one of public safety," a spokesperson said.

"The Suicide Prevention Office attended and supported the world premiere. The consistent message from the Suicide Prevention Office to the producers prior to the release was that support needed to be made available at screenings of the documentary to ensure that people who were triggered by the confronting or distressing content had access to immediate ways to seek help.

"The producers of the Girl on the Bridge were asking for an endorsement of the documentary from the Suicide Prevention Office.

"In this instance, based on international evidence and clinical expertise, the Suicide Prevention Office considered there were issues of public safety that needed to be addressed and was unable to offer an endorsement as producers were unable to guarantee that support people would be available at all screenings."

The latest criticism comes days after the Mental Health Foundation's boss accused a Ministry of Health official of trying to silence him after he criticised the Government's lack of work on mental health reforms.

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Chief executive Shaun Robinson says there’s “no plan” two years on from the inquiry into mental health and addiction. Source: Breakfast

Shaun Robinson told Breakfast yesterday there was an “implication” that the charity would lose its ministry funding if it continued criticising the Government.

Responding to the accusation, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said yesterday: “He [Robinson] is absolutely entitled to make those comments and I do see them as part of his job. He should be able to and should speak freely.”