Make whānau wellbeing the norm
The RACP calls on the New Zealand government to:
Increase support for communities to improve whānau health and wellbeing
- Support local authorities and communities work to reduce:
- “food swamps” (environments where unhealthy foods and beverages are readily available and heavily advertised)
- alcohol off-licenses
- gambling outlets
- non-bank lending outlets.
Increase support for mental health in primary care
- Address the systemic barriers exacerbating the physical health disparities and premature mortality experienced by people with mental health conditions and addiction.
- Encourage health professionals to discuss mental health and mental wellbeing with patients as part of consultations.
- Consider mental health and wellbeing as equal to physical health and wellbeing.
Take a child-centred approach to all legislation, policy and regulation
Apply a child health equity lens to the development, implementation, monitoring and assessment of legislation, policy and regulation, particularly where children and young people are indirectly affected.
“Kids at school make fun of me when I have eczema on my face. They call me names and I cry. I don’t want to go to school. At school I am always tired, and my skin itches under my clothes. I can’t focus on what the teacher is saying, and I can’t understand the work. We don’t have any books or a computer where we stay.”
Amy is overweight for her age and height, and she has symptoms of obstructive sleep apnoea, which causes her to snore and breathe heavily during sleep, disturbing her siblings. She has trouble concentrating at school as she is tired from poor quality sleep, as well as itchy from her eczema.
Amy is a frequent target for teasing and bullying from other children due to her dermatitis. There is no computer or books available to assist Amy or other children in the whānau with their learning and homework, and there is no quiet place to study.
“I’ll drink most days – have done since I lost my job. At home or down the pub, doesn’t really matter. Alcohol is pretty easy to get around here.”
Brian’s respiratory physician noticed Brian’s persistent low mood over several clinic appointments and commented on it in follow-up notes sent to his GP. When meeting with Brian, the GP suggested counselling, offering a referral. The GP also mentioned Brian could consider antidepressant medication. Brian’s GP asked him about his alcohol intake, and Brian stated he drank most days to self-medicate. He frequently will drink alone as a way to pass the time and get out of the house.
“The doctor took me to meet this drug and alcohol counsellor. We didn’t talk about drinking or smoking pot or anything at first – he wanted to know about my family and school, what my mates were like. Sometimes I didn’t go to the appointments because I was wasted, or I forgot, but when I did go I liked talking to him – I felt like he listened to me. I was real sad when he said that the youth clinic was going to close because there was no more money for it.”
Key facts: Whānau wellbeing in New Zealand
- Inequities are persistent, systemic and avoidable – so they are inherently unjust.
- The health and wellbeing of children and young people is not prioritised in policy development in New Zealand.
- Children in the most deprived areas are three times more likely to be hospitalised for potentially avoidable illnesses than children in the least deprived areas.
- Communities with higher levels of deprivation are more likely to have:
- worse access to healthy foods
- greater access to high-interest money lenders
- greater access and availability of off-license alcohol outlets.
- Sole parent households with young children are more likely to experience mental health issues.
- Over 150,000 New Zealanders will access mental health services annually.
- Children and young people who experience poverty are two to three times more likely to develop mental health conditions.