Counselling crucial to Covid response

National is calling on the Government to urgently fund 100,000 free counselling sessions to respond to growing mental distress caused by Covid.

“Covid has been hugely tough on everyone, making easier access to mental health services such as counselling critically important,” says National’s Mental Health and Suicide Prevention spokesperson Matt Doocey.

“We’ve seen high numbers of businesses closing, job losses and financial distress. The ongoing uncertainty is creating enormous stress for more and more people every day, making better access to mental health services crucial.

“We would like the Government to fund 100,000 free counselling sessions to those that need help right here and now, as well as to catch up on the growing list of people who have been waiting to get the help they need.

“National funded 50,000 free counselling sessions through GPs after the Canterbury earthquakes, and we saw just how important that was in helping people through really tough times.

“The need now during Covid is greater than ever. I’ve been approached by mental health counsellors working in DHBs who are seeing a growing number of referrals as a result of the impacts of Covid, but who are being told there is no extra funding available to respond to this growing demand.

“In 2019 the Government announced its flagship frontline mental health service, which placed mental health professionals in GP practices to increase access to mental health support. This was an initiative we enthusiastically backed.

“However, two-and-a-half years later, Labour has failed to roll this programme out to GP practices in a timely manner, with more than 70 per cent still not providing the service.

“This service wasn’t fast-tracked to respond to increasing rates of mental distress as a result of lockdown restrictions, and could’ve been a game-changer in a pandemic.

“Labour’s failure to deliver and invest in the area of mental health is deeply concerning. It has already underspent $45 million on mental health to date.

“We are calling on the Government to use this underspend now to fund 100,000 free counselling sessions for Kiwis who urgently need help.”