I’m reading a vision statement from the Mental Health Commission of New Zealand called Te Hononga 2015, Connecting for greater well-being.
In Maori, “Te Hononga” means to be connected, physically, socially and spiritually.
It’s Utopian. Why isn’t Canada striving for this?
What lessons we could learn.
Here’s one small snippet from the chapter on values in Te Hononga, written by Sarah Porter, one of many New Zealanders who contributed their personal perspectives. She was diagnosed and treated for a mental illness from the age of nine and has more than 30 years of experience of recovery. She’s worked in the community mental health sector since 1992.
“The idea of mental illness being a disease will give way to a more holistic view of mental distress being a normal part of the human experience. This change will enable people to better understand and support people in their communities. Huge progress made at the beginning of this century means we have learned that the key characteristics of recovery are hope, a sense of belonging, self-determination and a sense of meaning and purpose.”
Mental distress instead of mental illness as normal part of human experience.
This isn’t just semantics. These ideas represent a major paradigm shift in the way mental health is perceived and people are treated.
Why don’t we hear more about recovery and mental health in this country?
What does recovery mean?
There is no rigid definition. The American approach differs from New Zealand’s approach. Recovery is a personal experience. It can be a journey that lasts a lifetime, or a single epiphany. But in New Zealand, social context and societal responsibility are crucial for recovery.
One woman, Mary O’Hagan, is the powerhouse behind New Zealand’s enlightened approach to mental health.
In the 1970s, in her late teens, she was diagnosed and hospitalized for a mental illness. Humiliated and disturbed by the insensitive, patriarchal treatment she received at the hands of her psychiatrists, she started working and agitating for a new humanitarian approach to mental health care.
She rallied others with “lived experience” of mental illnesses and started New Zealand’s first “service user” group. They’re changing that society’s cultural view of mental health.
In 1998, O’Hagan introduced the landmark Blueprint for Mental Health Services, which mentioned “recovery” in a central government agency document for the first time.
It stresses the importance of hope. Living well in the presence or absence of one's mental illness. And personal and social responsibility. Everyone –– families, communities and people with mental health problems –– must actively participate in the recovery process.
Discrimination is the biggest barrier to recovery.
Recovery is bubbling under the surface here. Ontario’s “Making It Happen” implementation plan for mental health reform mentions “recovery.” Is this just lip service?
Do mental health professionals give out hope with all their diagnoses and prescriptions?
Why isn’t our new Mental Health Commission enshrining recovery principles in a national mental health care action plan? This week, they announced a public forum in Vancouver about its four-year study of homelessness and mental illnesses. This is just one small part of the picture. We need an inclusive approach for everyone in mental distress.
Canada lags light-years behind other countries. It’s time we caught up.