Christchurch Methodist Mission responds to the mental health crisis

A collaboration with the Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) will see the Christchurch Methodist Mission (CMM) work with 100 children that have been diagnosed with moderate to severe mental health issues.

The earthquakes have had a significant impact on the lives of Cantabrians over the past seven years. While the physical effects are being repaired, support is also needed for our mental health, which understandably deteriorated after the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. After seven long years, it is no surprise then to hear that the demand on the CDHB's mental health services is far exceeding capacity.

At present children have an initial appointment within three weeks but then face a wait of up to 6 months for a full psychological and psychiatric assessment to be done before they are accepted into CDHB services. This stems from current demand outstripping capacity and the CDHB is concerned with the length of the waiting list. By working together, the CDHB and CMM aim to provide a more timely service to children and families in Christchurch.

CMM Social Services Manager Sue van Deurs says that the collaboration between the CDHB and CMM is a "new way of working and will enable CMM to work with children alongside the CDHB. The children will have been assessed and diagnosed with mental health issues, predominantly anxiety and ADHD, which are moderate to severe. This means that we are now providing support to children for the full spectrum of mental health issues - from mild to severe."

CMM will provide individual work with children as well as group programmes for children and parents. The type of work will depend on the needs of the child and CMM will be able to provide a unique response to help the children and their whānau. Sue explains, "CDHB services are clinic based whereas we provide home-based support to the families. This means our workers can actually see the interaction between children and families in a much more real setting."

Professionals working with children and families have seen the mental health needs of children escalate post-earthquakes. Children in Christchurch have had "massive changes in where they are living and massive changes in school," says Sue. "Many have had to move school multiple times. At the same time parents were dealing with EQC, loss of jobs, relationship breakdowns ... parents were so busy and stressed that their children's needs got pushed to one side. Some of that support to children was not there because the parents were going through their own anxiety as well as everything else."

The new collaboration begins in October and will go some way to addressing the current demand for mental health services from children and their whānau in Christchurch. It will enable CMM to employ a new full time child and family psychologist and full time social worker to carry out the work. The CDHB have offered assistance with training and supervision as part of the new partnership.

Although the nature of this work is complex, the positive difference that will be made in the lives of the children and their whānau will be evident. "(Through this work) children will feel safer and more secure both at home and at school as well as being more able to control their emotions and behaviour. Parents will have a greater understanding of their children's needs and feel more confident in their role," says Sue.

"Everybody involved in the child's life, from the parents in the home environment to the school and support workers, will be working together in the same way. This approach will make a big difference in the lives of Christchurch children who have significant mental health issues, " adds Sue.

Picture Caption: CMM Social Services Manager Sue van Deurs looking over the details of the new collaboration with the CDHB.