Using science for good

The PM announced a significant funding and policy package yesterday around teenage mental health. An extract from his speech:

Even a mild mental illness can have a big impact on a young person’s life and on those around them.

In my time as Prime Minister I’ve seen the impact of youth mental illness all too often.

I’ve met teenagers suffering from depression who can’t see a path forward.

I’ve met gay and lesbian kids who are struggling with their sexuality and suffering from anxiety issues.

And I’ve met parents who have lost a child to suicide. These are good, everyday Kiwi parents.

When the worst happens and a teenager takes their own life, those left behind have a heavy burden to bear.

Our youth suicide rate is alarmingly high.

They say the worse thing in the world is outliving a child. Even worse than that must be, when the death is from suicide. The trauma it leaves behind with family and close friends is massive, and scars for life. It is one reason why suicide is generally such as extremely selfish act. But sadly, sometimes seems a logical option to a desperately unhappy person.

Anyway what I found interesting and encouraging was the words from Sir Peter Gluckman on the package:

The announcement today of a very significant package of initiatives aimed to improve the quality, and the effectiveness of the delivery, of mental health services to young people throughout New Zealand is both important in its own right and also a demonstration of how evidence and expert advice can be used effectively to improve policy formation. …

The origin of these initiatives is an exemplar of how policy formation in complex areas can be based on informed scientific advice. In 2009, the Prime Minister asked me to consider the problems associated with the transition through adolescence. Rather than undertake a superficial review, I embarked on a 18-month project that eventually involved more than 30 New Zealand experts and several international contributors. Intentionally we produced a report, entitled Improving the transition, that stayed focused on the scientifically robust evidence and avoided opinion and anecdote. Among its findings were significant concerns about the provision of mental health services to many young people. Following this report, the Prime Minister initiated an officials group to consider what could be done, taking into account the advice from our report, and their work was subject to iterative review by an expert group chaired by myself. It is primarily from that process that the initiatives announced today emerged.

This is an excellent way to do policy, with a robust science based approach.

I’ve seen policy formulation done many ways. I’ve been in rooms when we have brainstormed election policy. I’ve seen policy changed unilaterally to fit an advertisement (rather than vice-versa). One won’t always be able to do policy as described above, but it is an ideal to aim for in many portfolios.

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