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 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.

Also see:

13 hours wait as townsfolk hid in terror

A Wanganui man is worried and frustrated that it took 13 hours to get help for his seriously mentally ill brother, who he says could have killed someone during a recent violent outburst…His brother had been in the psychiatric unit Te Awhina at Wanganui Hospital five months ago…The episode meant that all the residents of Jerusalem, where both men live, locked themselves in their houses that night because they were frightened of what they believed the sick man was capable of doing…

Today’s posts – click here

5 thoughts on “Killing Of Gaynor White Highlights Mental Health Issues In New Zealand

  1. The worst thing about New Zealand is their total denial about the level of their problems. It’s never as bad here as anywhere else, they want to think. That is because if they thought they were stranded on a remote island with problems this bad, they’d off themselves. There’s nowhere to go. So deny deny deny. They have a horror of venting all this aggression openly. There’s nowhere to go but jumping into the sea, so they bite their tongues to shreds and stab one anotheri n the back rather than just freak out over anything or god forbid do something about a problem. Migrants – there is plenty here to freak out over. Believe me. You will be told it’s a refuge from the world. Don’t take that on board. It’s a floating prison. You can’t turn your back.

    “There is no depression in New Zealand; there are no sheep on our farms,
    There is no depression in New Zealand; we can all keep perfectly calm,
    Everybody’s talking about World War Three; everybody’s talking about World War Three,
    But we’re as safe as safe can be, there’s no unrest in this country
    We have no dole queues, we have no drug addicts, we have no racism, we have no sexism, sexism, no, no

    There is no depression in New Zealand; there are no teeth in our heads
    There is no depression in New Zealand; we sleep in a well made bed
    Oh but everybody’s talking about World War Three, yes everybody’s talking about World War Three,
    But we’re as safe as safe can be, there’s no unrest in this country
    We have no SIS, we have no secrets,
    We have no rebellion; we have no valium, valium, no, no
    There is no depression in New Zealand; there are no sheep on our farms,
    There is no depression in New Zealand; oh we can all keep perfectly calm,
    perfectly calm, perfectly calm, perfectly calm, perfectly calm…”

  2. That’s because a Kiwi getting murdered abroad takes the focus off what’s really going on at home. It also reinforces the message that the world outside of NZ is a dangerous place and people who leave are ‘asking for it’ in some way.

    Did the NZ press give her death more coverage than the trial of Kiwi Blazej Kot? He murdered his new bride in the US and tried to use mental illness as a defence, fortunately the US courts didn’t believe him. Can’t help feeling that he would have got away with it in NZ.

    • They take care of their own, on their own home field. I see it happening all the time. That one was dumb enough to commit a crime outside of Godzone, where the Kiwi excuses won’t fly.

  3. I’ll tell you one mentally ill thing about new zealand. that victims like that “slain nurse” who “didn’t take any nonsense” in Sydney is getting MORE NZ PRESS than their own migrant and non-migrant victims slain right there in new zealand.

  4. 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. 🙂

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