Mental health cry for help

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Southern District Health Board is under fire for failing to boost mental health services in Queenstown.

It’s been eight months since the DHB announced it was recruiting an additional staff member to allow it to respond to after-hours emergency mental health calls in the resort.

That service is still not running, much to the chagrin of Queens-town’s mayor, who says the DHB is letting locals down.

DHB chiefs say it’s working on it, but there’s no clear timeframe for when it might be in place.

The initial announcement in November came in the wake of a damning report into the unlawful detainment of a Queenstown man, who’d attempted suicide, by police.

He was detained for seven hours in October 2017 while cops waited for a mental health team from Invercargill.

His father says an after-hours response is “desperately needed”, and failing to improve services would be a disaster for the region.

An Independent Police Conduct Authority report ruled the detention was unlawful but the force’s actions were reasonable in the circumstances.

Queenstown cops attended 158 mental health and attempted suicide call-outs between May 2018 and May this year.

Just over a quarter of those occurred between midnight and 9am.

Senior sergeant John Fookes, who’s been a cop in the resort for 19 years, says the volume of calls has risen as the population’s grown.

He says a lot of calls are from people who have received concerning messages from a friend or loved one, or seen that they’ve posted something concerning online.

“They’re not things we can ignore.

“A lot more people come to our attention earlier.”

The father of the man at the centre of the IPCA report says people have nowhere to turn.

Mountain Scene has agreed not to name him to protect the identity of his son.

The DHB’s initial announcement it would provide an after-hours response in Queenstown was met with enthusiasm, but now he says he’s “very disappointed”.

“We desperately need it here.

“If they don’t do anything, it’s a disaster for the region.”

He says his son has moved to Auckland because “he can’t live in this environment any more”, and they’re considering getting him mental health treatment overseas because it’s more accessible.

After his son’s ordeal, they helped raise $4500 for the Queenstown Lakes Family Centre. But, he says, “it shouldn’t be up to us to do that”.

Queenstown mayor Jim Boult is also unimpressed, saying mental health is “another area where the DHB are letting our district down – particularly also with maternity care”.

A survey commissioned by the council late last year revealed 62 per cent of respondents felt more mental health services were needed.

A quarter of respondents had accessed, or tried to access, mental health services in the prior 12 months.

Boult has “some confidence” a planned private hospital will help with general care, but “in areas like mental and maternity care we have been poorly served”.

When first asked about the IPCA report in November, DHB mental health, addictions and intellectual disability boss Louise Travers told Scene the DHB was working to provide a more timely crisis response service in the Wakatipu between midnight and 8.30am.

Currently the Southland-based mental health emergency team covers the area between those hours.

She said the DHB was recruiting an after-hours “duly authorised officer” for Queenstown.

In May, the DHB said they filled the position in February, and once the new staff member was fully orientated, “we will work with the team around implementing a 24/7 on-call roster for Queenstown”.

Another two months down the track, and there seems to be no start date in sight.

Travers says the DHB’s “currently planning to ensure that we establish a sustainable service for the Wakatipu area”.

“This needs to be well thought through and requires a whole-of-system approach as people experience varying levels of distress and need.”

daisy.hudson@scene.co.nz