Welcome to the Balance Aotearoa Website
The Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry panel received over 5,000 submissions, and Panel members have attended over 300 meetings with individuals, community groups and stakeholders around the country. They’ve heard from many people about their experiences of mental health and addiction. This includes individuals’ personal experiences (directly or as family/whanau), what’s working well and what isn’t, and the experiences of providers, clinicians and advocates.
The Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry panel intends to honour our contributions by developing a report that leads to significant improvements in mental health and addiction in New Zealand and creates hope for the future. This Inquiry is a once in a generation opportunity to make real change. We are seizing that opportunity.
Balance Aotearoa is having its turn this week in Whanganui this week. And this is our written submission with an appendix that we will be talking to the Panel about, as well as hosting Whanganui Tangata Whaiora to have their say.
Balance NZ and Balance Whanganui merged to become Balance Aotearoa in July 2016. We took this decision to ensure the ongoing sustainability of our respective organisations so that we can continue to contribute to the mental health and addictions sector as a peer-led organisation.
All the things that Balance NZ currently does will remain in place i.e. peer led workshops, the online forums and our participation as a Disabled Person’s Organisation.
As a merged organisation we need to renew our membership connection with you. We invite new and existing members to sign up here. This means you will need to apply to become a member of Balance Aotearoa should you wish to.
Thank you for your ongoing support.
Balance Aotearoa is a charitable trust that makes a difference in the lives of those affected by mental health issues. If this is your first visit you may like to have a look through the menus to get a feel for what the site and the network can offer you.
Balance Aotearoa is continuously evolving in our understandings of mental health and addiction issues and also the things which truly support mental and physical well-being, recovery and resilience.
As we evolve, one of the obvious outcomes is an increasing interest in the power of language to determine our ways of thinking about and responding to all of above.
Words are powerful things. They can hurt and heal, persuade and negate. Words and the language they make up do things, make things happen, and as creatures that rely on language we make words work to our own ends. It is language that makes it possible for us to think certain things and not others and the meanings we attach to words are not static: they change over time and in different circumstances.
‘Mental illness’ is one of those terms that has been gifted to us by a medical and psychiatric way of understanding thoughts and feelings that are causing a person distress: a particular way of understanding problems of the mind. Many people have found it very helpful to think of their difficulties as an illness. In fact it has now become so common place to think this way that we assume that people with a ‘mental illness’ must always be treated or helped by a mental health service.
But there are also people who have not found it helpful, neither the notion of illness nor the help of mental health services. Indeed thinking this way often binds both the person themselves and others around them into a self-fulfilling prophecy of a disempowered, dependent “career” as a person with a “mental illness”. When this happens it is neither helpful nor healing. It is a way of thinking that can have negative repercussions for both the person, their family and also inevitably leads to increased financial costs to our health and welfare services.
Because of this, Balance Aotearoa is looking for a way to be more inclusive of the range of human experiences without necessarily having to think of them as illness. As an organisation we are in a transition from historically seeing benefit in the notion of mental illness but now becoming increasingly concerned about the way it limits what can be thought about problems of the mind and how best to respond to them.
This is in no way intended to play down the seriousness or the suffering that often ensues for those with this wide range of life challenges, but it is intended to help create the space in our thinking for responding in a more beneficial and optimistic way.
Medication is a good example. If you can only think about difficult emotions or disturbing thoughts as an illness located in the brain then medication that affects how the brain works is logically seen as the primary way to help a person. Indeed medications can be helpful to some people, but there also needs to be space to explore other ways of helping people heal: ways that are more hope-based and build on a person’s strengths, rather than their deficits. Ways that engage a person in their own understanding and their own power to act for their well-being, rather than passively “accept treatment”.
So, in an effort to make space to think differently Balance Aotearoa is making a conscious attempt to change the way it uses words. There are two particular changes we are making: firstly we are going to refrain from using the term mental illness and secondly we are going to incorporate the term ‘disability’. We are not going to stop using medically based terms such as depression or bipolar but when we use them, we will always have in mind that there might be other ways to think about these experiences beyond psychiatric meanings. We are also going to be using the term psycho-social ‘disability’ more in our language. What we find helpful about this term is the way it suggests that a person’s difficulties do not generally lie solely within the individual: that other people (both individually and within the “structures” of society) responding in a discriminating and stigmatising manner can be even more traumatising and “disabling” than the disturbing thoughts and feelings that a person is experiencing.
The term psycho-social disability also encourages us to think about a person as not disordered or diseased but as a person who has the same humanness and rights as everyone else. Rather than implying a person is "wrong" and needs to be "fixed" to meet society's needs, it suggests a citizen with rights that need to be upheld.