Sunday, February 28, 2010

Killing Of Gaynor White Highlights Mental Health Issues In New Zealand

Today's Sunday Star times is carrying a story that tells how the family of Shaun Skilling, the man accused of the hammer murder of 62 year old Gaynor White, pleaded for him to be admitted to a mental health facility.

Shaun Skilling's family told told the newspaper they'd contacted the police, worried that he may kill himself. Police questioned him but said they couldn't do anything because he hadn't committed a crime.

We Begged for help
"...relatives of Shaun Skilling, 22, have revealed that they called police the day before he allegedly murdered Gaynor White, 62, at her Huntsbury home, because he had disappeared and they were concerned he was suicidal. Police found him in central Christchurch and questioned him, but let him go as he had not committed any crime, the family says. This was despite Skilling's mother, Donna Moore, saying she had laid a complaint earlier in the week alleging her son had stolen her Eftpos card and spent $1400. Donna Moore says she was told by police they were too busy investigating the disappearance of Christchurch woman Vanessa Pickering, whose body was eventually found at Godley Head."

They say that had the police and psychiatric services handled the situation properly the outcome may have been very different.

Skilling's family is said to have a history of mental health issues and he himself was a "homebake heroin addict." His father died in a car crash hours after being taken to a mental health facility by police after a violent episode. The day before Mrs White was killed Shaun told his partner that he would kill himself in the same way that his father had died.

In the preceding weeks his family had tried desperately to seek help for their son but say they were repeatedly let down by mental health services, even though they had begged for help.
"Skilling's brother, Jamie Skilling, 24, said he was disgusted mental health services had let down his family twice. "He told me he was a serious risk to himself, we said we need immediate psychiatric help, he needs to be locked up now, but they said he wasn't serious enough."

Jamie Skilling was concerned his brother would kill himself in prison.
"He doesn't want to be here any more, these drugs have completely ravaged his mind. "
Donna Moore said: "This didn't need to happen. He went for help, we took him, we begged them, they wouldn't take him."
New Zealand has a significant problem with drugs and alcohol abuse, health services struggle to cope with treating mental illnesses that either lead to, or arise from that abuse. It is more than a conicidence that the country has some of the worlds highest suicide rates and the second highest ratio of prison incarcerations in 10 comparable OECD countries.

The message we're getting is that a person in crisis has to commit a serious crime before any significant support is given, people in desperate need are let down time after time. Unfortunately in addition to the harm people inflict on themselves, innocent members of their local communities are on the receiving end of the crimes they commit. Does anyone seem to care?

The circumstances surrounding the murder of Gaynor White has remarkable similarities to the death of Diane Elizabeth White, age 53, who was battered to death in her home in Hamilton recently, also with a hammer:
"A 40 year old woman was charged with Mrs. White's murder. A neighbour told the press that the woman had fled from the Henry Rongomau Bennett Centre – a mental health facility at Waikato Hospital:

A neighbour, who asked not to be named, yesterday told the Times that she rang both the Henry Rongomau Bennett Centre – a mental health facility at Waikato Hospital – and the police before the woman's death. The murder accused had turned up at her house, was unstable and threatening to do Ms White harm, she said. Police say they visited the area but couldn't see anything amiss but found the body on their second visit. They are investigating their response.

The neighbour became worried about the alleged killer's behaviour because "I could tell she was distracted by the way she was dressed. It wasn't how she would normally look like". She rang police and the hospital again when the murder accused came back to her house from next door.

The neighbour told the Times the murder accused first came to her house yesterday morning for a cup of tea and told her she'd fled from the Henry Bennett Centre. The accused looked distressed and asked for a piece of paper to write a note.
"They have had runs-in for a long time," the neighbour said."She (the murder accused) was a good girl."
The neighbour said she watched as the murder accused walked over to Ms White's house.
A little while later, the accused left.That's when she locked her doors and rang the both the Henry Bennett Centre and police again. The body was discovered soon after..."
The Ministry of Health puts estimates of the prevalence of mental health problems amongst adult New Zealanders as follows:
  • about 3 percent of the population have severe mental health problems or disorders
  • another 5 percent of adult New Zealanders have moderate/severe mental health problems or disorders
  • another 12 percent of adult New Zealanders have mild/moderate mental health problems or disorders.
Although many people with mental disorders present to primary care services, service provision in response to their needs depends on the interest and expertise of individual practitioners. Therefore models and standards of service delivery are haphazard and inconsistent. In the current primary health care system, barriers to the provision of effective primary mental health services include:
  • cost to the GP
  • cost to the service user
  • GP confidence and competence.
In particular, the current fee-for-service funding system and service user part-charges create financial incentives for both the GP and service user to meet the user’s needs through specialist mental health care.
The provision of primary mental health services in New Zealand is predominantly GP-based. Internationally, in contrast, other professional groups such as nurses, social workers, counsellors and psychologists have an increasing role in such provision. Despite very little formal evaluation of the effectiveness of these roles, recent work suggests interventions that consistently improved outcomes for people presenting to primary health care services with depression incorporated some form of case management approach. Typically the case management role is taken on by staff other than GPs at relatively low cost.

The literature shows clear support for primary health care practitioners taking the lead role in the provision of mental health services for people with mild to moderate mental health problems. With respect to mental health services for the 3 percent of the population with severe mental health problems, however, the role of primary health care practitioners is less well defined.

In New Zealand there is a somewhat ad hoc approach to the provision of primary health care services for this group. In recent years a few ‘pilot initiatives’ have aimed at transferring the lead role in clinical service provision for people with severe mental health problems from specialist mental health services to GPs. Because these initiatives are generally locally initiated, the way in which they are funded and delivered varies considerably."          Read more here

A national Study of Psychiatric Morbidity in NZ Prisons may show evidence of that failure to provide adequate treatment and support to people with mental illnesses, it's reflected in the country's prison population:
"The results indicate a significantly higher rate of mental disorder than that in the community. This is particularly so for schizophrenia, for bipolar disorder, for major depression, for obsessive compulsive disorder and for post traumatic stress disorder. All these conditions are associated with high levels of distress and disability, especially during the acute phases of these illnesses.

The National Study also revealed that nearly 60 percent of all inmates have at least one major personality disorder.

The National Study estimates that all inmates who have a current diagnosis of schizophrenia or a related disorder and bipolar disorder will require active psychiatric treatment and of those, 135 will require inpatient treatment. The life-time and one-month prevalence for these disorders is significantly higher than in the community. Of those inmates in the acute phase of these disorders, 30.6 percent are currently receiving mental health medication."
One has to ask if many of these people only have access to and receive proper assessment and treatment after they've entered the prison system, why isn't far more being done before they get to that stage, why wait for a crime to be committed? Surely it would be lot more cost effective and better for NZ society as a whole it if were.

See also

Mental health services under the knife to save millions - Mental health services face cutbacks and closures as district health boards look to rein in funding.

Lifeline's Mensline - a service aimed directly at vulnerable men in trouble who are not good at reaching out for help has been suspended after 15 years in operation. In Australia a similar service is state funded but in NZ it is supported through charitable grants and public donations. World suicide prevention expert Annette Beautrais said " there needs to be a commitment to on-going suicide prevention funding and the loss of this service is a set back to both the suicide prevention and mental health sectors."

"Stabbing victim to leave NZ" - A stabbing victim is leaving the country and fears for his life because his attacker, who has a history of mental illness, is about to be released from prison without having done any rehabilitation programme.

"Mental Health Foundation concerned for youth" A youth mental health centre in Christchurch is to be forced to close because of a lack of funding. It served 7,000 young people a year between the ages of 10 and 25 and had to turn away 5-10 people a day because of a lack of resources. The service was described a "trailblazer and one we should be looking to preserve and replicate, not put at risk or close. Ensuring young people’s needs are met is sound investment as it can avoid worse problems and more costly interventions later on.”

A driver "suffering mental health issues" allegedly drove a car into the front entrance of a Hamilton police station injuring two police staff.

Today's posts - click here


  1. On the one hand, you have a society with very rigid pigeonholes. People who are outside those, or step outside, do not always fare well unless they have the money or foreign clout to buy themselves a license for eccentricity.

    On the other, you have a slow, clogged judicial system where years go by before a decision is reached. And social services structured in such a way that they have to keep scrambling to ensure their funding continues, so all their efforts go into keeping the supply of funding coming - and it's a short leash.

    I know a mentally ill person in and out of the hospitals, and the focus is on creativity and acceptance of her condition, less so on functionality, which would be the more sensible and pragmatic choice. New Zealand is a strange combination of pragmatic and nonsensical. :)


    The defense counsel for this Kiwi on trial for murdering his wife is arguing he has Capgras Syndrome. I think all of New Zealand has it - the idea that "everything they know will be replaced by something alien". Could this be a result of the island mentality and the hush-hush high level of inbreeding? Do not touch the Precious Things of the Shop!

  3. There's Nothing for you Here?

    Doubt if the American courts fall for it but we have an uneasy feeling that he'd get away with it in a NZ courtroom.

    The guy was lucid enough to burn down the apartment to cover up his crime. Maybe he was just too 'fragile' to deal with his PhD paper getting rejected and took it out on his wife? Heck, they'd only been married a month.

    NZ has an appalling record for domestic violence.

  4. AnonymousMay 03, 2010

    In New Zealand mental illness affects one in five people.

    Moreover, everyone tries to call everyone else crazy. This leads to a very silly situation.

    I saw a counselor to try and deal with some of the life stress here. She was a British migrant. She confided that New Zealand was a "very abusive society". I tried to pressure her to go more public about it and share this with people who should know this fact before coming here, but she clammed up afterwards. I doubt that after as many years as she has lived here, that she can go back. She might have been protecting her livelihood. Maybe she thinks she has a mission to help this godforsaken place, and bad publicity would not help it. I personally don't consider New Zealand worth "saving". They can save themselves if they climb out of their self-centered resentful exploitative frame of mind and start treating others as something other than a life support system. New Zealand is a dismal place.

  5. AnonymousMay 13, 2010

    someone pointed me to this link, a reddit thread, LOL:

  6. AnonymousJuly 25, 2010

    This exemplifies their attitude towards mental health - incompetence + intolerance. Harden up! Vulnerability or emotion = laughable weakness in this society and be careful the knives are out behind the glossy brochures.

    ACC sends a woman's sex abuse case file to her local (rural) superette, where of course, gossip being what it is in these information-hungry petty little places, word gets out. ACC then has to pay to relocate her and compensate her for the loss of privacy.

    "The misdirected patient file is not the first problem the woman, who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of her father in the 1980s, has experienced with ACC. In April the Star-Times revealed details of internal ACC emails that labelled the woman a "mental health nutter" and someone who should consider taking her own life.
    A senior staff member from the sensitive claims unit was relocated."

    When mental health professionals are calling people nutters and recommending suicide, there is something wrong. I hope Kiwis never relocate to my country of birth en masse. I wouldn't f*****g want a bar of them.

    A Pommie neighbour stopped by yesterday afternoon to say goodbye. He was heading for Australia. He was a scientist. He said he and his wife had tried to retire here because "New Zealand had been a nice place in the 1970s". No more, though he stated in the most categorical terms. "Parochial, and has become more expensive while wages have fallen", were among his comments as to what was wrong.

    To that, I'd add "and they are just plain nasty".


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