Fr James Lyons
Well-being and being well have surfaced as priorities for policy makers in the current New Zealand government.
The biggest ticket price in the ‘Wellbeing’ 2019 Budget is for mental health, a clear indication that New Zealanders are not functioning or managing in a well state. This realisation is surely good for health.
At the same time, the policy of making New Zealand tobacco-free by 2025 continues, with the prohibition of smoking in vehicles the latest in a series of restrictions on where a person can smoke. Also good for health.
We are now very aware of passive smoking, exposure to toxins inhaled by simply being in the presence of smokers. Another plus for health.
However, as a country we are now considering legalising another drug, the perception and mood-changing marijuana or cannabis. Where there may be credit for using this drug for medical purposes, there are danger signs attached to it being readily available for recreation.
Regular users will not long be satisfied with this ‘harmless’ drug, despite evidence to show its potential negative effects on the mind, and will be more easily introduced to the definitely mind-bending drugs, like cocaine, increasing substance abuse.
As a nation, we are concerned about the high rate of suicide. As reported in the DomPost, 9 June 2019, in the year to June 2018, 668 New Zealanders took their own lives – the highest numbers since records began. Our youth suicide rate is the worst in the OECD.
This highly complex issue, equivalent to a national health emergency, helps justify the high cost budget item and says we are genuinely concerned for the population’s mental health.
However, also as a nation, we are debating the equally complex issue of euthanasia, or assisted suicide. On the one hand, we express grave concern over our high suicide rate, while being willing to consider another form of suicide ‒ one in which a second person (a medical practitioner, dedicated to healing and saving life) is required to help someone, the law sanctions as being able to freely choose, to end their own life.
Are we saying that it’s okay to help someone who is disturbed, depressed or emotionally unstable, NOT to take their own life, and it’s also okay to help someone who’s in a good mental state but who has an incurable illness, to choose death?
We seem to be a nation in conflict with itself, on the path to losing its way.
That mental health requires more money than any other current social issue facing New Zealand, indicates a problem not just for individuals but for the entire population.
But neither is it just a physical, mental or economic problem. The situation points to a deep spiritual problem and a holistic approach is demanded.
Being well and well-being cannot be maintained in a state of contradiction. And that, regrettably, is where we stand right now.
James B Lyons is a priest of the Archdiocese of Wellington.
Published in WelCom July 2019