Why Do We Need Biblical Counselling in New Zealand? (Part 1)


Recently, New Zealand celebrated Mental Health Week (8 October to 14 October). Not a Mental Health day, but a whole week! This demonstrates the significant role that mental health plays in New Zealand society. The question, however, is whether or not New Zealand’s mental health issues have been adequately addressed. In light of this question, this article explores the necessity of introducing Biblical counselling in New Zealand at this time.

Biblical Counselling and mental health - what's the difference?

Mental Health in New Zealand

How big is the problem?

The New Zealand government notes that 47% of New Zealanders will experience a mental illness and/or an addiction at some time in their lives, with one in five people affected within one year. (reference). To complicate matters further, it seems that the problem of mental health is increasing.

Almost half of New Zealanders will experience a mental health problem
Fig. 1: 2011 Mental Health Stat for New Zealand

The New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, reported in January 2018 that “Demand has grown rapidly in recent years. In 2016/17 more than 170,000 people used mental health and addiction services – that’s up by 71 per cent on a decade earlier.” (reference)

Fig. 2: Increase in Number of Mental Health Cases

The need for another approach.

If nearly half of the New Zealand population will experience a mental illness at some time in their life, then there appears to be a crisis and urgent intervention is required. The existing mental health system possibly needs to be re-evaluated and/or other models possibly need to be considered.

Jacinda Ardern explains that “Nothing is off the table. We all know we have a problem with mental health in this country, and our suicide rate is shameful. It is well past time for us to do something about it.” (reference)

Is the problem being adequately addressed?

Fig. 3: Increase in Cost of Mental Health

New Zealand’s Mental Health and Addiction Services released a report in February 2018 (Click here to read), which states that the Ministry of Health costs have increased by 40% over the past decade. It also reported that mental health prescriptions have increased by 50% in the last 10 years and continue to grow at a rate of approximately 5% each year (page 23). This implies further cost to the government.

The enormity of the mental health problem in New Zealand becomes apparent when we realise that in the past decade there has been an increase of 73% of mental health cases; however, only 40% of New Zealand’s revenue has been used to address the problem. The demand therefore appears to be outgrowing the “solution.”

If the existing therapeutic means of addressing mental health issues over the past decade has resulted in such figures, it seems obvious that something is not working and things need to change.

A sample of the New Zealand society as an example.

Fig. 4: Mental Health in New Zealand Prisons

Fig. 4 illustrates an interesting statistic. The mental illness awareness of the prison population drastically increases with incarceration. Reports show that more than 90 per cent of New Zealand prisoners have a lifetime diagnosis of a mental health or substance abuse disorder. This is confirmed by the New Zealand’s Mental Health and Addiction Services report (see page 20).

In order to address this issue, the New Zealand government has invested $14 million over a period of a 2 year’s package as a means of addressing the prisoners’ access to mental health services. This means that more money is spent on mental health. However, it still does not appear to be producing the desired results.

Another measure to assess the mental health in New Zealand.

It may be argued that the means by which New Zealand’s mental health is assessed is flawed and is resulting in these figures (this will be discussed later). There is, however, an additional statistic that is not reliant upon subjective testing, but originates from hard facts, and that is New Zealand’s suicide figures.

Fig. 5: Suicide Rate in New Zealand

New Zealand’s suicide rate has increased by 13.67 people (per 100,000 people) in 2018, which is up from 12.64 people the previous year. (Read article here) . It is reported that New Zealand’s suicide rate is at its highest level since the statistics were first recorded in 2007 and has increased for the fourth year in a row. (Reference)

This is hard evidence that points to the fact that something is wrong and something needs to change.

What are the contributing factors to poor mental health?

The first question to ask is, on what is the New Zealand government spending its money in order to address the problem of mental health? Answer: secular therapy.

This is the task of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, psychiatric nurses, counsellors, and a wide range of allied mental health therapists and professionals who are given the mandate to address the mental and social problems in New Zealand.

It would appear that there has either been little success in their endeavours, the situations of New Zealand citizens have changed, or there has been an extraordinary increase in the New Zealand population to date in order for these statistics to be present.

There may, however, be another reason for the decrease in the mental health of the New Zealand population, and that is due to the way in which “mental illness” is defined.

What are possible causes for poor mental health?

One issue that has not added to the mental distress of the New Zealand people is that of political conflict and living in an unsafe country. New Zealand is a developed country that is not under constant threat of war, invasion, famine, disasters, etc. In fact, New Zealand is considered to be the second safest country in the world in 2018 by the Institute for Economics and Peace (Read article here). Yet, the emotional, psychological, and social health of the country continues to be alarming.

Four contributing factors.

First, what has changed in New Zealand over the past few years is people’s worldviews, belief systems, ethics, values, etc. These are major contributors to how people process life. Inadequate worldview and beliefs lead to the deterioration of the mental well-being of New Zealanders.

A second factor that may be contributing to the issue is the definitions of mental illness and mental health. The standard “bible” used for the diagnosis of mental illness is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is now in its 5th edition. Dr. Allen Frances (read his profile here) refers to the DSM 5 in the Psychology Today magazine, and notes that “The Board of Trustees of the American Psychiatry Association has given its final approval to a deeply flawed DSM 5 containing many changes that seem clearly unsafe and scientifically unsound.” (Read article here)

A third factor, which may result in the increasing level of mental illness, is the methodology and philosophical underpinnings of mental health professionals. All of these professionals find themselves in the field of psychology and sometimes even pseudo-psychology. The results of mental health professional intervention to date suggest that a psychology methodology is not solving the problem, and this points back to the philosophical foundations of psychology.

A fourth factor is that “mental wellness” may be more than a personal problem, and may also be as a result of deeply ingrained spiritual issues that have not only impacted the individual, but also society.

In closing…

New Zealand’s current recognised state of mental health is more than concerning, and it would appear that something needs to be done that is different from the current mental health model and psychological treatment techniques, which are used to address this issue.

In Part 2 I will look at methodologies that are outside of the mainstream models and examine those for effectiveness.

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