We pity Kiri Allan and blame the heartless system

From our Leader: August 1, 2023 Issue

Venkat Raman
Auckland, August 1, 2023

It is easy to find fault with former Justice Minister Kiri Allan and her indiscretion in driving in a drunken state, causing a traffic incident and worse, resisting arrest, thereby interfering with the Police in their rightful duties. But critics must pause and steer out of politics and look at the cause of this unfortunate episode that should draw more pity than fire.

We do not condone any of the actions of Ms Allan. We agree that it was unbecoming of a Minister in charge of Justice to have flouted all the rules and it is right that she relinquished her ministerial portfolios and day later, bid goodbye to politics, for a time at least.

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But we say that the opposition parties must take heart- Ms Allan was the victim of mental health issues- a problem that seems to afflict more New Zealanders now than ever before. She had returned just a week earlier from a respite, reflecting on her state of health and her immediate family.

Many of us are unable to cope with the stress and struggle in life, at home and work. While this inability leads some to extreme levels of misbehaviour with colleagues and subordinates, others go to the extent of inflicting pain on others and themselves.

Human beings are being increasingly damaged by stress and struggle, perpetrated by the complexity of relationships – at home, at work and in the communities. They need understanding, support and all assistance for revival and rehabilitation.

Just as war has no unwounded soldiers, modern relationships leave people scars of ridicule, bullying, intimidation, and in many cases, sheer neglect. Such societal behaviours perhaps cause more psychological damage than political conflicts have ever done.

The dangers of depression

The World Health Organisation has underscored the importance of mental health in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Depression is one of the leading causes of disability and suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds. People with severe mental health conditions die prematurely as much as two decades early due to preventable physical conditions.

Despite progress in some countries, people with mental health conditions often experience severe human rights violations, discrimination, and stigma. Many cases can be effectively treated at relatively low cost, yet the gap between people needing care and those with access to care remains substantial. Effective treatment coverage remains extremely low.

The Covid-19 pandemic has added its contribution to the rise in mental health problems. According to the Economist, working from home also erased some of the non-financial rewards from employment, such as rubbing shoulders with colleagues.

“Extended periods at home gave others a trial run at what retirement could be like. Rather than being forced to retire, older workers may have chosen to do so. The proportion of inactive people between 16 and 64 who claim they would like a job, fell to a record low of just over 19% in 2022,” it said.

The inept system

Our health system is far too inefficient to effectively address mental issue challenges. Increased investment is required to improve mental health awareness and reduce stigma. There is also a need to improve access to quality mental health care and effective treatments and for research to identify new treatments and improve existing treatments for all mental disorders.

Politicians are more conversant with human irrationality than most. Allowing the mentally ill to languish does not bode well for a Nation; neither does a swipe at people just because they embrace an ideology.

The approach to mental health should transcend politics.

It is after all a human problem.

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