The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) is appalled by the stigmatising letter written to constituents by Act Party leader and Epsom MP David Seymour warning that tenants in a new housing development could have mental health issues and inviting them to voice their concerns at a public meeting.
He later commented that he stands by the letter and was “telling it like it is.”
Mr Seymour holds an influential position, one that can shape public opinion and attitudes towards people living with mental illness. We encourage Mr Seymour to consider the damage his letter and comments can do to the one in five Kiwis who experience a mental health problem each year. These people are ordinary New Zealanders, friends and whānau, parents, siblings and colleagues. They are members of our community and deserve help and support when they are unwell, the same as anyone else.
Stigma and discrimination are two of the biggest barriers to recovery for people living with mental illness. Mr Seymour’s letter and comments serve only to reinforce negative stereotypes and portray people living with mental illness as a public nuisance, or something to be feared.
It is simply irresponsible, incorrect and disrespectful to continue to feed into the misguided and sensationalist narrative that people living with mental health problems are inherently unsafe to be around.
We know that people who live with mental illness are far more likely to be subjected to violent crime than they are to be the perpetrators.
Community mental health services are a vital part of our mental health system. They are much safer and more effective than institutions, and allow people to remain part of their communities while they recover instead of being locked away, out of sight and out of mind.
A recent Statistics New Zealand wellbeing report showed that 18% of participants would feel uncomfortable or very uncomfortable if they knew their neighbour had a mental illness. These ‘not-in-my-backyard’ attitudes are nothing new, and Mr Seymour’s letter works only to reinforce prejudice rather than work toward a more understanding and supportive community.
We call on Mr Seymour to retract his letter and comments and to learn more about the reality of living with mental illness, the effects of stigma and discrimination and the importance of being inclusive.
People living with mental illness deserve to be accepted, they deserve to live in our communities and be supported by their friends, whānau, neighbours and local MPs.
We invite Mr Seymour join the MHF on our journey to creating communities free from mental illness stigma and discrimination, where all New Zealander’s can enjoy positive mental health and wellbeing.
For further information or comment, please contact:
Senior Communications & Marketing Officer
Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand
021 233 8517