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Listening . . . South Canterbury District Health Board mental health and addictions adviser Dianne Black (left) and family/whanau adviser Greer Fenwick help convey client and family members' views to the board's services. PHOTO: GRETA YEOMAN

The findings of the Government’s Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction were released in late November. Courier reporter Greta Yeoman sat down with South Canterbury District Health Board mental health manager Kathryn Robinson to discuss the findings, client and whanau representation in the mental health and addictions system and the importance of having the hard conversations.

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Kathryn Robinson has nothing but praise for the South Canterbury District Health Board’s mental health/addictions services’ consumer advisers.

“They are just such a valued resource.”

The manager of the SCDHB’s mental health and addiction services, based at the Kensington Centre, said centring the voices of clients and their whanau was vital.

While the district health board only launched a consumer council for the hospital in late 2017, the mental health and addictions services have had consumer advisers for more than a decade, Mrs Robinson said.

Both advisers are SCDHB employees: Dianne Black takes the role of consumer adviser for clients, while Greer Fenwick represents the family/whanau of people in the system.

Mrs Robinson said having “different eyes” to view the work of the board and its services was beneficial for all involved.

“It’s great.”

Both women represent the consumer voice at Kensington management meetings and also help organise events for mental health.

“[They had] a very, very, very huge part in it,” she said of the board’s Mental Health Awareness Week whanau day last year.

The pair also attend the meetings of the district health board’s mental health and addictions consumer group, which is made up of South Canterbury residents who have “lived experience” of mental health and/or addiction but have not necessarily been through the services at Kensington.

The group had about three members at present, but there was room for about four more members if anyone was interested, she said.

The cover of the Government’s Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction

Mrs Robinson also welcomed the recommendations that came out of the Government’s Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction late last year.

One point was improving the representation of consumer voices within the national system, which backed up what the board had been doing for years, she said.

The report also suggested more support for, and variety of, community-based mental health and addiction services, offering choice for clients alongside traditional, hospital-based treatment.

It also acknowledged that people needed to be at the centre of their own recovery and better collaboration between services was needed.

Mrs Robinson said if all the suggestions in the report were adopted, big changes would be coming for the mental health and addictions system – but they would not occur overnight.

“There’s just so much in there. We’re talking transformational change.”

The Government is expected to release its comments and decisions on which parts of the inquiry it will adopt in about March.

Other suggestions in the report included supporting the “missing middle” of people who were unwell but deemed not unwell enough for services.

That had been a major part of the public discussion during the inquiry, along with the increasing need for people to access mental health and addictions services.

However, Mrs Robinson said the SCDHB had not seen an increase in referrals to the region’s services over the past few years.

People can be referred by their GP or another health professional for an appointment, or refer themselves.

Mrs Robinson was also pleased people were becoming more willing to start conversations about mental health.

“I think people are beginning to become more comfortable in asking their friends ‘how are you?’ and really meaning [it].”