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Is the mental health system in Aotearoa New Zealand providing quality care to young people? A critical analysis utilising the perspectives of mental health professionals and sociological insights.

The increasing rate of mental illness among young people, and mental health systems inadequate responses, have been critically analysed within various academic publications and government/ international agency reports. Comparatively, a critical analysis of the systemic issues that contribute to or perpetuate these inadequacies, specifically analysis that utilises sociological perspectives, is lacking within academic literature. This thesis utilises a sociological lens to investigate the challenges present within the Aotearoa New Zealand mental health system, identifying likely systemic causes and presenting alternative approaches that may alleviate some of the challenges. Employing a qualitative, interpretivist approach, 11 semi-structured interviews were conducted with mental health professionals from various clinical disciplines, who currently work within the system in the North Island/Te Ika-a-Māui of Aotearoa New Zealand. Thematic analysis was conducted on the 11 transcripts and 6 themes were identified. The data analysis suggests that, from the perspective of the mental health professionals, many of the current challenges within the system, specifically staffing and funding issues, are linked to operation strategies that focus on efficiency, profit margins, standardization, and individualism, all elements of neoliberalism. Other challenges identified by participants such as the reliance on biomedicine and a crisis management system, which are both approaches that encourage standardisation can also be understood as elements that are conducive with an efficiency focussed neoliberal system. Participants presented alternative approaches that they would like to see implemented in the system, these included therapeutic interventions and structural changes. The alternative approaches draw on relational concepts such as continuous patient-centred care and holism and this may be contrasted with the current standardised and efficiency-focused practices. These findings highlight two differing approaches to mental health care drawing upon contrasting ideologies. Challenges identified by participants suggest that individualist principles are underpinning the current system, whereas a more relational approach underpins the alternative models suggested by participants. Moving forward this research suggests that the mental health system might possibly consider shifting its focus from individualism and neoliberalism and instead incorporate practices that draw on relationality, continuous patient-centred care, and holistic approaches to mental health.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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