An area that New Zealand’s performance is not strong, is coming under increasing pressures, demanding attention and action as the impacts of the COVID-19 response affects the lives of those already coping with mental health challenges, as well as those that have not struggled before. As with all aspects of our lives in a post COVID-19 world, part of this action can be enabled by digital tools and solutions.
Twenty percent of people in New Zealand are dealing with a mental health problem at any given time, yet only three percent have access to services in the current system. The 2018 review of the New Zealand Mental Health system identified ten areas that required improvement to develop an effective mental health system. One of these highlights the need to put people at the centre, giving them an opportunity to play more of a part in their care and make it easier for them to get information and support in a variety of ways that have taken their culture, experiences and situation into consideration.
But to get there we need to start with getting the basics in place. For some New Zealanders, the cost of mobile data can be a barrier to accessing essential health and wellbeing information and digital health services. Those who cannot access information and services are often those with the highest needs. For this reason, sustainability is an important health outcome that will remain a core focus for how we at Spark Health can help the health sector and is a key pillar across the wider Spark organisation to create ‘A positive digital future for all of New Zealand.’
The principle of equity is at the heart of this sustainability approach, and we remain committed to working in partnership with the health sector to make a real and positive contribution to digital equity. The partnerships we form will be based around shared values, underpinned by the principles of kaitiakitanga (protection) and manaakitanga (extending compassion, valuing and acknowledging all experiences).
“We need to listen to people more, and not assume what people are seeing or feeling at any given moment”.
To start putting this into practice, we have worked over the last 18 months with the Ministry of Health, Vodafone and 2Degrees on the MoH Sponsored Data initiative. Sponsored Data (also known as zero-rated data and applies to pre-pay and monthly plans) plays a small part in removing one barrier to accessing mental health information by providing free access to key health sector websites for anyone using the Spark, Skinny, Vodafone or 2degrees mobile networks.
Spark have also implemented Skinny Jump in partnership with the Digital Inclusion Alliance Aotearoa. Skinny Jump is a programme subsidising home broadband for thousands of New Zealanders at risk of digital exclusion, ensuring that every Kiwi has digital access in their home. Nearly 20,000 modems have been provided to NZ households so far, during the COVID-19 response.
Spark Foundation who leads out Spark’s community work is looking to address barriers to digital equity across the health sector leveraging the Government’s Digital Inclusion Blueprint with a focus on access , motivation, skills and trust approach to digital equity, so there will be more initiatives developed by Spark to strengthen our performance in this area.
Highlighting how digital solutions can connect and improve access to information on mental health issues, the WHO will, for the first time ever, host a global online advocacy event on mental health this World Mental Health Day (3am Sunday 11 October NZ time). This event will showcase the work that its staff are doing around the world to reduce mental illness. World leaders and mental health experts will also join the WHO Director-General to talk about their commitment to mental health and what more must be done. World renowned musicians who have spoken out about the importance of mental health will also share their experiences and how they have dealt with conditions such as depression and anxiety.
Another fantastic example, that has used new technologies to improve the perceptions and understanding of mental health, has been developed closer to home. Out of my Mind, is one award winning podcast launched earlier this year that features a series of true stories about mental health, told by the people who’ve been there.
At the heart of all of these efforts one thought needs to remain at the core of our actions— we are all people. While digital technologies can help immensely to connect people with each other and with information we need to remember that we are still dealing with a person that needs help at the end of the line, email, podcast or download. We need to try to understand, to be empathetic and willing to hear what people’s needs are if we are really to make a difference in the mental health of New Zealand. To quote one of the interviewees of the first episode of Out of My Mind, Taimi Allan, CEO of Changing Minds: “We need to listen to people more, and not assume what people are seeing or feeling at any given moment”.
Mental health websites on the sponsored data plan
|www.health.govt.nz||Ministry of Health website with a wide range of information to help New Zealanders manage their health|
|www.healthnavigator.org.nz||A digital front door for accessing information about health topics, medicines, healthy living and health services.|
|www.depression.org.nz||Information and resources to help New Zealanders recognise and understand depression and anxiety.|
|www.thelowdown.co.nz||Information and resources to help young New Zealanders recognise and understand depression or anxiety.|
|www.allright.org.nz||Information and resources to help New Zealanders manage their mental health.|
|www.mentalhealth.org.nz||Mental Health Foundation website with support and information to help New Zealanders manage their mental health.|