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Mental health services

This section provides a brief overview of specialist mental health services in New Zealand.

People working in mental health

Access to specialist services





People working in mental health

Before or after using specialist mental health services, people may see primary care workers to help with mental distress:

  • General practitioners (GPs) are doctors who diagnose and treat common or minor physical illness and mental distress. They often refer people with more serious mental distress to specialist mental health services.
  • Private practitioners (such as counsellors, psychotherapists, clinical psychologists and psychiatrists in private practice) provide more specialised services than GPs, for a fee.

Workers in specialist mental health services

There are various types of mental health workers who have all had different training to meet different needs for treatment and support but their roles can overlap quite a lot.

  • Case managers or key workers (often a mental health nurse or a social worker) co-ordinate people's care, are their main contact point and support them to develop their goals and strategy for recovery.
  • Clinical psychologists assess psychological problems and help people develop personal strategies to assist recovery.
  • Consumer advisors advocate for consumers and advise services on how to provide recovery-focused services.
  • District inspectors are lawyers with responsibilities to safeguard the rights of people under the Mental Health Act through giving legal advice, investigating complaints and arranging for a lawyer to represent people under compulsory assessment or treatment.
  • Duly authorised officers (DAOs) are health professionals with special responsibilities under the Mental Health Act to give advice on the Act and help with compulsory assessments.
  • Family advisors advocate for families and advise providers how to work with families.
  • Māori cultural workers with titles such as whai manaaki or kaiāwhina and other Māori staff offer support to people and their whānau. Kaumātua and kuia also provide advice and guidance to services.
  • Mental health nurses give care and support for clinical and other needs in both community and inpatient services.
  • Occupational therapists provide activities to help people regain lost abilities and develop new living skills.
  • Pacific cultural workers help mainstream services provide culturally respectful services for Pacific people.
  • Peer support workers have personal experience of mental distress and/or addiction and are trained to provide care and support from that perspective.
  • Psychiatrists are doctors specialising in mental distress who diagnose, prescribe medication and oversee clinical care. Some can also provide psychotherapy. Psychiatric registrars are trainee psychiatrists.
  • Responsible clinicians are usually psychiatrists and are responsible for people's treatment while they are subject to compulsory assessment and treatment under the Mental Health Act.
  • Social workers look after people's social and practical needs such as family assistance, welfare benefits, housing, jobs and so on.
  • Support workers support people to take an active role in their recovery and offer a listening ear, advice and practical assistance. They are usually based in community services.

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Access to specialist services

Experiencing mental distress and using specialist mental health services (such as an inpatient unit) can be traumatic for people, but when most people look back on their experiences, they realise some good comes from it as well.

Specialist mental health services can be very difficult to get in to. There is a huge demand for services in some places, and they may only be able to admit people who are really unwell.

Who decides?

A lot of people decide themselves to use specialist mental health services, but sometimes other people make that decision for you.

Usually you have to be referred by a health professional:

  • Your general practitioner (family doctor) may refer you because you need more expert help than they can give.
  • You may be referred through an accident and emergency service, for instance, if you have harmed yourself.
  • You may ring up your local mental health helpline, mental health crisis services or psychiatric emergency team who will decide whether or not you could benefit from mental health services.

Some people are taken to specialist mental health services by the Police. Occasionally the Courts are involved.

If you have difficulty getting into specialist mental health services, keep trying. Get family, friends or relatives to support you and let the mental health service know how bad things are for you.

What some people feel about it

Most people feel really bad by the time they get into specialist mental health services. Your mental distress may make you feel overwhelmed, despairing, confused or scared. These are expected emotions.

If people around you don't understand mental distress, you may feel ashamed that you have to use specialist mental health services or you may feel some fear because you don't know what the services are going to do to you.

If someone else has made the decisions for you, you may feel powerless or angry.

Some people feel relief when they start to use services - at last someone may be able to understand and help you.

Whatever you feel, it's OK and it's part of your recovery journey.
Once you get into mental health services, don't be afraid to ask questions about what is happening to you.

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