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Decoding the Political Victim Card

Mental Health as a Political Excuse | Golriz Ghahraman Resigns

Green MP charged with three counts of theft

Mental Health used as a convenient political excuse | Golriz Ghahraman

In recent times, the intertwining of mental health and political life has surfaced as a contentious debate. New Zealand, heralded for its openness, is witnessing a surge in mental health discussions amongst its political echelons. With studies revealing that nearly half of the country’s citizens grapple with mental distress at some point, the subject undoubtedly demands attention. Specific demographics, including young adults, the rainbow community, Māori, and those with disabilities, confront elevated risks. Yet, a disconcerting trend emerges: the insidious positioning of mental health as a political excuse to sidestep responsibility for inappropriate behaviour. Amid heartening tales of political figures shedding light on their personal mental health battles, a darker narrative looms – one where mental distress is potentially manipulated as a shield against fallout from bad behaviour.

Despite acknowledging mental illness as a pressing concern and the call from Mental Health Foundation’s CEO Shaun Robinson to scrupulously segregate mental distress from one’s actions, the scepticism remains. Could the introduction of dedicated performance coaches and mental health experts in the halls of power strike a balance, ensuring well-being without compromising accountability? The article ahead navigates this delicate conundrum, probing whether political figures may be cloaking themselves in the victim narrative to dodge the repercussions of their misconduct, even as the calls for mental health issues to be approached with as much scrutiny as any other political scandal intensify, it remains to be seen whether accountability can maintain its ground in the slippery domain of politics and mental health.

Navigating the Fine Line Between Mental Health and Avoidance of Accountability

In the intricate dance of politics, mental health advocacy can sometimes slip into a convenient guise for avoiding accountability. This is particularly evident in the realm of policy making for serious mental illness (SMI), which includes conditions like psychotic disorders, bipolar disorder type 1, and treatment-resistant depression. Individuals with SMI face a plethora of inequities, yet the path to equitable policy is fraught with factionalism, often stymied by ideological and scientific divides. This factionalism has been a persistent hurdle since the era of deinstitutionalization, complicating the funding and implementation of evidence-based services.

To navigate these choppy waters, deliberative democratic theory offers a lifeline. It advocates for mutually respectful rules for deliberation about policy and champions evidence-based policy development. By fostering an environment that encourages respectful discourse, it’s possible to bridge the chasm of factionalism and enhance SMI policy. In line with this approach, the proposition of a Public Mental Health Policy Commission stands out. This commission, if guided by the tenets of deliberative democracy, could be instrumental in overcoming factionalism and refining SMI policy.

Meanwhile, mental health parity laws have been a battleground in their own right. These laws are designed to ensure that mental and physical health care receive comparable benefits, compelling insurers to offer equal types of benefits for both. Supporters of these laws argue they are vital for providing necessary treatment and for helping to destigmatize mental illness. Critics, however, view them as costly and superfluous. The spread and adoption of these laws across states are influenced by a variety of factors, including political ideology, the robustness of mental health advocacy organizations, and the economic health of the state in question. In the United States, where most citizens receive health care through employers, mental health parity laws have mandated employers to provide equal benefits for mental and physical illnesses.

Across the Pacific, New Zealand has taken a proactive stance by committing to the establishment of a Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission. This body is set to take a holistic view of mental health issues, extending its gaze beyond the health sector to consider the impact of social determinants like family, housing, employment, poverty, and the environment on mental wellbeing. The commission’s mandate includes promoting an understanding of mental wellbeing that actively combats stigma, discrimination, and inequity while upholding human rights. This broad approach acknowledges the multifaceted nature of mental health and its intersection with various sectors of society.

The delicate balance between advocating for mental health and ensuring political accountability is a tightrope walk. As the New Zealand government moves forward with its Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission, the world watches with a mix of hope and skepticism. Will this commission serve as a model for others, successfully integrating mental health advocacy with a robust, accountable political framework? Only time will tell, but one thing is certain: mental health as a political excuse cannot be the default position. It is crucial to support those with mental illness while simultaneously maintaining the integrity of political accountability.


Throughout this article, we’ve examined the fraught intersection of mental health advocacy and political accountability. Our journey has highlighted not only the urgent need for compassionate mental health support in political spheres but also the necessity for clear boundaries to prevent the misuse of mental health as an excuse for political manoeuvring. As we’ve seen, New Zealand’s endeavor to establish a Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission offers a ray of hope for a balanced approach.

Grounding political responsibility firmly alongside the advocacy for mental wellbeing sets a high bar that future policymakers should aim to meet. This dual commitment to mental health and transparency is vital for fostering trust and respect in public institutions. As we chart a course for mental health in politics, let us remember that the true measure of progress lies in our ability to uphold both the welfare of individuals and the collective standards of our democratic systems.

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