A prominent mental health campaigner has handed back his New Zealand Order of Merit due to the government’s inaction on mental health.
- Jacinda Ardern has championed her government’s efforts to improve mental health services
- Critics say little has changed since 2019 despite the NZ government’s “wellbeing” budgets
- Mike King says no-one is trying to fix the country’s broken mental health system
Mike King, a well-known comedian, addressed Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern directly in an Instagram post announcing he would be returning his medal.
King said he believed “with all my heart” that things were about to change when the government announced its $NZ1.9 billion ($1.78 billion) mental health package in 2019.
But three years on, he said he felt like “we have let everybody down”.
“Every day I ask myself, ‘how can you wear this title when things haven’t changed and so many are still suffering?'” King said.
“I know this is the last thing you needed to hear, but I can no longer stand idly by hoping things will change and knowing they won’t.”
The Prime Minister’s office confirmed that the Honours Unit would be in touch with King to confirm the next steps.
“I don’t think Mike has been in touch with me recently but I would like to assure him, and others, that we know the work to improve mental health care in New Zealand is not complete yet,” Ms Ardern said.
“We have made good steps but know there is much more to do.
“While I totally respect Mike’s decision, his honour was about the contribution he’s made to improving people’s lives — and that stands.”
King was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2019 for services to mental health awareness and suicide prevention.
That same year he was named New Zealander of the Year (a corporate-sponsored award) for shining light on the issues of depression, alcohol and drug abuse, and suicide in NZ.
Ms Ardern has championed her government’s efforts to reduce child poverty and improve the country’s struggling mental health services.
Her annual “wellbeing” budget is guided by improving living goals as opposed to traditional financial measures.
However, critics argue little has improved since the first wellbeing budget in 2019.
A UNICEF report released last year found New Zealand’s youth suicide rate was the second-worst in the developed world, at 14.9 deaths per 100,000 adolescents.
That rate was more than twice the average among the 41 OECD countries surveyed.
“New Zealand’s high suicide rate is influenced by a constellation of other factors, such as colonisation, the bias of teachers in schools which exclude children, socio-economic background, poverty, cultural influences and inequality,” UNICEF New Zealand executive director Vivien Maidaborn said.