Mental Health Foundation 2023 General Election statement

Our wero to political parties

' Mehemea ka moemoeā ahau, ko ahau anake. Mehemea ka moemoeā tātou, ka taea e tātou. '

– If I dream, I dream alone. If we dream as a collective, we can achieve our dream.

The wero (challenge)

This election, people across Aotearoa need to hear how your party will transform our mental health and addiction system to better protect and improve the mental wellbeing of all people.  

What actions will your party take to empower people and communities to build positive mental wellbeing, and ensure everyone has equitable access to timely, safe, effective, culturally responsive mental health care, which is informed by Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the expertise and experiences of people with lived experience of mental illness or distress? 

What’s your investment strategy to put these actions into practice over the long term, and how will it make life better for the 1 in 5 New Zealanders who will experience mental illness and/or addiction this year?  

To help your party meet our wero, we offer our vision for change, backed by strong evidence and consultation from people with lived experience of mental distress or illness. 

The moemoeā (vision)

We all want Aotearoa to be a place where people enjoy a good level of mental wellbeing, where people who experience mental distress1 or addiction2 are treated with dignity and given the choice of holistic, effective support, when and where they need it to recover and regain their wellbeing. Family and whānau will have the support and information, and services have the flexibility and resourcing, to meet these needs. 

What’s stopping us?

The report from the 2018 Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction, He Ara Oranga, offered recommendations for positive change, but we’re still waiting on a plan of implementation for many of the recommendations.

  • Nearly 1 in 4 adults experience poor mental wellbeingi – this number is risingii and inequities exist with Māori, Pasifika, and those living in hardship more likely to experience mental distress.iii 
  • Mental distress is highest among young people,iv and rangatahi Māori are more than twice as likely to die by suicide than non-Māori youth.v  
  • Despite increased investment, access to specialist services has remained stagnant for the past five Access to primary mental health services is increasing but there are gaps for Māori, Pasifika, and rangatahi.vii 
  • Our services are not set up to address the drivers of mental distress such as poverty, racism, whānau violence, loneliness, prejudice and discrimination, unemployment, and insecure housing.viii

' The cold reality is that things at the coal face of mental health have not changed for many New Zealanders since He Ara Oranga was first published. Our most vulnerable people are still waiting, and more people are tipping into that vulnerable category. That is not acceptable. '

– Shaun Robinson, Mental Health Foundation CE.

The cost and investment

The shortfalls in our system are costing us all. People using mental health services in Aotearoa have more than double the risk of premature death (before the age of 65) compared to the general population, including from preventable and treatable healht issues.ix The annual cost of serious mental illness and addiction is high at $12bn per year (5% of GDP).x 

Mental health investment must be commensurate to need. The majority of DHB and Ministry of Health expenditure is on servicesxi but it must be spread across prevention, promotion and effective support and services. Doing so is estimated to produce large costs savings.xii 

Change is overdue. People in New Zealand deserve better, and we can do better. What is your plan to make it happen?  

Creating a safe, strong, supportive mental health and addiction system

' He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. '

– What is the most important thing in the world? It is the people, it is the people, it is the people. 

To make meaningful change, we must invest in growing a strong, empowered, community-driven, and culturally safe workforce, which includes and resources peer support in every service. The mental health workforce and system must: 

  • Be guided by lived experience and whānau leadership.  
  • Be representative of, and effective for our diverse communities, including Māori, Pasifika, Asian, refugee and migrant, people with disabilities, rainbow communities, and those across the life course spectrum.  
  • Reflect whānau, hapū, and iwi aspirations by including kaupapa Māori approaches and Māori-led solutions and being responsive to people’s holistic needs. This is key to reducing inequitable health outcomes for Māori. 

12 actions to create meaningful change

The MHF believes there are four priority areas for change, backed by clear evidence, that should guide your plan. We offer examples of 12 tangible actions that can be adopted – we acknowledge this is not an exhaustive list.  

' To ensure the actions taken are meaningful and responsive, it is imperative that we have access to current, robust data which helps us to understand the scale of need across population groups, and how the needs change over time. We recommend establishing a comprehensive, national survey. '

We all have mental health. Our next government will be charged with protecting, maintaining, and growing our mental health system and the mental health of New Zealanders to ensure our collective and individual mental health is strong and ready to support us through the challenges and opportunities ahead. New Zealanders are listening now to hear how you will do that. More than ever, they understand the importance of investing in and protecting their mental health and the mental health of those they love.  

We look forward to hearing how you will answer this wero. 


i Health Promotion Agency, & Kvalsvig, A. (2018, February). Wellbeing and Mental Distress in Aotearoa New Zealand: Snapshot 2016 (No. 978–0-47844-920–4). Health Promotion Agency.

ii Statistics New Zealand. (2021). 2021 General Social Survey.; Statistics New Zealand. (2022). New Zealanders’ mental wellbeing declines.