Vaccines are our best shot to protect New Zealanders’ mental health

The COVID-19 vaccine is the best way to protect the mental health and wellbeing of New Zealanders.
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Found in: News / Statements
Date: 27 October 2021

The Mental Health Foundation has a simple message to everyone in New Zealand today: our mental health and wellbeing depends on protecting our people and our communities from the impacts of COVID-19, and the best, safest and most effective way to do that is through vaccination. It is our most powerful tool to look after our loved ones, support our most vulnerable people and return to our lives. 

We feel incredibly proud of how well New Zealanders have done so far at looking after themselves and each other through the pandemic. Compared to other countries, we are doing very well – research published in the Lancet recently has shown that while our collective mental health has not been unharmed by COVID-19 and by lockdowns, we are doing much better than other countries where COVID-19 has caused widespread illness, death and destruction of health systems. 

We want to see this continue, and the vaccine gives us our best chance of doing that, of moving forward with our lives where our whānau and friends can continue to support each other, where we can have a summer together, where our communities can continue to live and work and play together, and where we can protect our people from the harms to mental and physical health we know COVID-19 causes. 

We are concerned about vaccine access for tāngata whai ora – people living with mental health and addiction issues. They are twice as likely to be hospitalised with, experience long-term effects, or die from COVID-19, but they are currently less likely to be vaccinated than the general population. We have joined a global declaration to address this urgently.

We want those who are living with mental distress and addictions to know they deserve to be healthy, they deserve to be protected from COVID-19, and they deserve to be safe. We hope more people who live with mental distress and addictions will choose to get vaccinated to protect themselves and those they love.

We do know some people are experiencing anxiety around the vaccine and we want to make sure those people can access support and care. 

We are also aware there is anger and distress from those who have chosen not to get the vaccine, who feel recent announcements to mandate vaccines in certain workplaces and public spaces are discriminatory and believe these measures are likely to cause mental distress. 

While we can understand that people are feeling angry and upset, our position is that it is not reasonable or fair to ask New Zealanders to allow COVID-19 to spread unchecked for any reason, and both the science and the experiences of other countries tells us that the virus will spread without these measures. We want everyone to stay well, and collective immunity is critically important for our mental health as well as for our physical health.

We do want anyone experiencing distress to get help, compassion and support, and we encourage individuals to talk to trusted friends and whānau, or reach out to a helpline to talk about how they are feeling. But, experiencing the consequences of a choice you have made is not the same thing as being discriminated against for something an individual cannot change, such as a mental illness, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, disability or religion. Your mental health matters, but we do not think these public health measures are discriminatory.

The evidence is clear that an uncontrolled pandemic would have a detrimental effect on the mental health of all New Zealanders. Overseas evidence has shown the harmful impacts of the virus itself, which can cause long-term mental health impacts for people with long-COVID, as well as healthcare workers tasked with caring for patients and managing overrun hospitals and healthcare systems. However, the mental health impacts have also been seen in the wider population in countries where COVID-19 has been uncontained, with rising rates of anxiety, depression, psychosis and other mental health problems becoming evident in the UK, the USA and many other countries. 

New Zealand cannot afford to see a similar increase – our mental health services could not cope with it, our people do not deserve to experience this distress. It is not inevitable that New Zealanders will share this burden – we can avoid it, and vaccines offer our best protection. 

Connection with others, having hope for the future, having control over our lives, feeling safe and having a sense of calm are the essential ingredients for wellbeing during a crisis such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The vaccine offers us these things – it gives us the best protection from the virus which causes so much fear and uncertainty, allows us to take back control of our lives and our future, helps us keep ourselves, our whānau and our loved ones safe and brings back our sense of calm and hope. It is our best way forward. 

For more information on our statement, see the below FAQs.