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Mental health care controversies to be explored at conference

High shot of the Information Services Building

Monday 13 September 2010 10:48am

The possibility that New Zealand doctors often medicalise normal feelings such as sadness and over-prescribe anti-depressants will be put under the spotlight at a symposium at the University of Otago later this month.

The gathering, which is open to professionals and non-professionals alike, will also explore other pressing questions about the current state of mental health care in New Zealand, such as whether mental health funding streams disproportionately favour drugs over other interventions which may be less harmful.

Called “Mental Health: Are We on the Right Track?”, the inter-disciplinary symposium is being held on the 25th and 26th September in Dunedin. It is organised by the University’s Department of General Practice as the first in its new series of symposiums called “Controversies in Healthcare”. These yearly events will focus on a different facet of healthcare in New Zealand that is proving open to debate.

Convenor Dr Monika Clark-Grill says that the event is designed to tackle troubling issues that arise in the day-to-day practice of nurses, counsellors, therapists, doctors, policymakers, and other professionals.

“These are the kinds of issues that many working at the front line of primary health care will recognise, but few will have had the time or opportunity to discuss or provide feedback on. We are encouraging professionals and non-professionals alike, from any discipline or experience with mental health care, to attend this event and share their perspectives,” Dr Clark-Grill says.

A major theme of the symposium will be to explore the interface between mental illness and normal emotional responses to adversity and discuss alternatives to drug therapy, she says.

“While people with severe mental illness may need medication, there is a growing perception of a worrying trend towards the medicalisation of life’s challenges.”

Keynote speakers include Australian author Karen Masman (The Uses of Sadness: Why Feeling Sad is no Reason Not to Be Happy) and Dr Te Kani Kingi, Chair of New Zealand’s Mental Health Commission Advisory Group.

Other speakers include Professor Paul Glue (Psychological Medicine), Associate Professor Dee Mangin (General Practice, Christchurch), and Professor Roger Mulder (Psychological Medicine, Christchurch), who represent the University from a breadth of disciplines.

Oral and poster presentations and a panel discussion will expand on the keynote topics on the Saturday. On Sunday, interactive workshops will delve into details of the topics by giving voice to “grassroots” experiences of professionals and members of the public.

The presentations on particular issues will generate ideas and discussion. The workshop results will be collated for the whole symposium audience to hear during a closing panel discussion.

Sponsorship from Southlink Health and Integrative Health Trust Otago has made it possible to offer some complimentary registrations to members of the community who wish to attend, but lack the necessary financial resources. To apply, please contact Sally Boult (her details are listed below) by Friday 17 September.

The symposium programme can be viewed at:

To register, visit:

For more information, contact

Dr Monika Clark-Grill
Faculty of Medicine
University of Otago

For registration enquiries, contact:

Conference organiser Sally Boult

A list of Otago experts available for media comment is available elsewhere on this website.

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