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Increasing access to employment support is central to a transformed mental health and addiction system

The Big Community wheel of responses and workforces. Credit: Wellbeing Manifesto, Mary O'Hagan (2018).


July 14, 2020

Recent reports point to the integration of health and employment support

New Zealand has seen the release of a series of reports which will inform the future of the mental health and addiction system:

All of these reports provide a highly supportive policy environment for the integration of health and employment support.

He Ara Oranga

In the midst of this flurry of reports, Work Counts returns to He Ara Oranga: Report of the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction – the framework for supporting a transformed mental health and addiction system in Aotearoa. This crucial inquiry report had a great deal to say about employment and where this fits within a transformed system. Employment and unemployment are mentioned more than 40 times!

We have summarised some of the key findings and solutions outlined in He Ara Oranga, below.


  • The experience of a mental health or addiction issue is a major threat to maintaining and regaining employment, and the system has a responsibility to offer quality employment support.
  • Conversely, being unemployed or at risk of losing one’s job are significant contributing factors in the development or exacerbation of mental health and addiction issues.
  • Employment opportunities are essential to address inequities in Māori and Pasifika health.
  • The proportion of people claiming benefits with mental health challenges continues to rise rapidly.
  • The OECD 2018 report Mental Health and Work: New Zealand addresses mental health and work policy challenges, and these challenges were similar to those expressed by the people the Inquiry team heard from.


  • People want support in the community, to stay connected and receive help for a variety of needs. People said this support should include employment support. Employment is a huge part of recovery.
  • Providing support to people to obtain and maintain employment is effective, and cost-effective.
  • People felt that the current system was over-medicalised, and that we do not provide the full range of evidence-informed interventions important to recovery. The current focus on medication treatment is also inconsistent with holistic world views.
  • The Wellbeing Manifesto lists 12 aspects of a holistic model, with psychiatric treatment being only one part alongside advocacy and navigation services, education and employment support, and whānau and parenting support.
  • People wanted more support services that GPs could refer to, especially for help with health education, social support, respite care and employment support.
  • Employment specialists need to be part of the new and expanded roles within our mental health and addiction workforce.

Vision for the future

Work Counts strategic advisor Dr Helen Lockett said, “He Ara Oranga outlined a vision for the future where employment and education support are integral to mental health and addiction care and treatment. Hospital and inpatient units will not be the centre of the system. Instead it will be about offering holistic supports, led by people and their communities. Employment specialists are part of the new health workforce, able to support people to stay at work or return to employment, an integral part of wellbeing.”

Find out more

Read related article Employment support important for psychosocial recovery

Read related article Health reports recognise the central role of work in promoting wellbeing

Read related article Mental Health Commissioner says more is needed to help people to stay in work or find a job

Read related article OECD report offers a roadmap to address employment inequities


O’Hagan, M. 2018. The Big Community wheel of responses and workforces image, from the Wellbeing Manifesto for Aotearoa New Zealand: A submission to the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction. (Prepared for PeerZone and ActionStation).

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