Do Good Thursday: mental health

This week for Do Good Thursday I’m boosting this fantastic post by Jessica McAllen about the organisations who work bloody hard filling in the gaps in our under-funded, under-resourced mental health system. As we wait to see what kind of government we have for the next three years – and even if it’s a good result, repairing shattered public services is not a quick job – these organisations are still doing the mahi and literally saving lives.

Jess writes:

Organisations like the ones I’ve listed below fill the void while patients slowly climb to the top of the list for DHB care. They provide hope for people with serious mental illnesses who don’t connect with the everyday New Zealander and work to advocate for those who are being treated unfairly within the system. Often these organisations are actually more attractive than DHB psychiatric care because they treat people as an individual rather than a diagnosis.

The past decade has been death by a thousand cuts for such organisations. Many have had to cancel vital programs due to a combination of decreased funding and increased demand. Whether you want to go hard-out and do some suicide prevention training (Lifekeepers) or attend an exhibition of artwork by mental health consumers (Pablos’ annual auction is coming up next month), I hope there’s something in this list for anyone wanting to help.

As an additional good work, consider supporting Jess’ freelace work via Patreon.

If you have any other organisations/projects/awesome ideas to boost, drop them in the comments below.

How we talk about tax: the shiftless hordes and the hard-working rich

This is how Stuff chose to headline an article about the way income tax is paid in New Zealand:

tax brunt
On the Facebook thumbnail, it was even worse:

tax hordes
(Congratulations, baby, you’re part of a horde!)

There are many ways to debunk the entire premise of “some feckless baby-makers just want to live in luxury off the rest of us”, like:


You could point out that “just counting income tax and not GST” is a Kiwiblog standard tactic as old as the dinosaurs.

You could ask why “an economist at Infometrics” doesn’t understand that literally every country has “a top 1%” because that’s how percentages work.

And you could focus on the comments from Drs Susan St John and Deborah Russell – experts in tax and inequality who understand the world is far more complex than “income tax in, Working for Families out”. Dr St John says:

“We are all in a negative position when you look at what the state provides. If you have an individual on a given income with no children and someone else with the same income and multiple children, they are not in the same position to pay tax. This gives some degree of horizontal equity.”

And Dr Russell:

“Everyone regards superannuation as an entitlement – they think older people are entitled to support because they cannot work any more.

“But why not apply the same thinking to children as well? They can’t go out and earn money. Children do not choose their parents. They are not possessions or commodity items. We need to think in terms of supporting vulnerable citizens – the sick, elderly and children.”

The article redeems itself somewhat with these quotes – right at the end. But what does the headline tell you? Hordes of people aren’t really paying any tax. A small number of good, industrious people are bearing the brunt of tax. When that’s the way the issue is framed from the get-go, it reinforces a terrible set of ideas we have about tax, society, welfare and community: from “people receiving benefits are bludgers leeching off the rest of us” to “the rich are rich because they work hard and don’t expect handouts” to “tax is a terrible thing and wouldn’t it be great if none of us paid it?”

These ideas have become ingrained, reflexive assumptions, thanks to a concerted, decades-in-the-making effort from the right, but also a failure to provide an alternative set of ideas from the left. We oppose National when it promises tax cuts and spins surpluses out of thin air to make them look reasonable, but we also accept that a government must “live within its means”.

We have tacitly supported the idea that tax is a burden, that government spending should be reined in, that we must avoid at all costs getting hit with the “tax and spend” label. We’ve abandoned the good old socialist rhetoric about where wealth comes from – labour – and why government exists – to ensure wealth is distributed more fairly and support everyone in our society to live a good life. Instead we propose minimal-cost policies and fiscally-neutral spending.

It can feel like an insurmountable challenge, I know! The rightwing rhetoric is so pervasive we don’t even see it as a political statement any more, to say “business creates jobs” or “goverments must deliver surplus”. But we can be bold and challenging and forthright about the principles that matter to us.

We can offer an alternative. It’s what people are crying out for.

Untroll Thursday: Captain Awkward

Inspired by Megan MacKay, Thursdays are #UnTrollTheInternet Day, when we uplift the positive stuff on the internet to remind ourselves that this amazing global platform we share doesn’t have to be a force for vileness.

Captain Awkward is an online advice column which provides refreshingly good advice. It’s not that she tells you to reject all social obligcations and live a free life on a libertarian cruise ship; but she will remind you that it’s up to you to decide whether or not those social obligations are a net benefit or net harm to your health.

I get a little evangelist about her, and have even mimicked her style on occasion.

She’s every “but you have to come to Christmas dinner, it’s family tradition!”-complaining relative’s worst nightmare.

At 830+ letters answered and counting, CA can be a bit intimidating for newbies. Fortunately there is a handy FAQ covering core questions like how to start relationships, end relationships, deal with creeps in your social circles, and avoid the dreaded Darth Vader boyfriend.

Reading Captain Awkward has done wonders for my psychological and emotional health. Another fantastic thing brought to you by the internet.

Women of #nzpol Twitter: on weight, food and pregnancy

The “Women of #nzpol Twitter roundup” is brought to you in the interests of amplifying women’s voices in the political debate and also because:

sansa misandry

I got the inside running on this one by catching five minutes of Breakfast on One’s interview with John Key:

The rest of the media weren’t far behind.

I just want to note the first sentence of the article Andrea Vance linked to:

More than 60 per cent of pregnant women gain more weight than is recommended, which has implications for a child’s weight later in life.

Not implications for health; implications for weight. We’re so wedded to the notion that being fat automatically means you’re unhealthy that we don’t even need to establish whether or not weight gain in pregnancy leads to health issues. It just must because ew, fatties.

Take it away, Twitter:

And back to me:

For many, many informed perspectives on what happens when you force fat people to go to the doctor, check out First Do No Harm.

This is a common tune for me, but I’m just going to repeat it: fatness does not equal poor health. Thinness does not equal good health. Correlating certain diseases with fatness does not mean fatness causes those diseases. Considering the incredibly fatphobic society we live in, it’s ludicrous not to consider the effects of stress, deprivation, and societally-applauded yo-yo dieting on the overall health of fat people, even IF fat people were inherently less healthy than thin people, which they’re not.

And when it comes to policing the every waking thought and action of pregnant people – including how much weight they gain during pregnancy – there really aren’t good grounds to be talking about “evidence-based approaches”.

Stop talking about weight. Stop judging people based on their weight. Stop buying into the weightloss industry’s propaganda. Because if you want to know the #1 reason why we’re not having national conversations about food access, living wages, family time, and health awareness? Maybe it’s something to do with the fact we keep saying it’s all fat people’s fault for not being able to put down the doughnuts.

And for god’s sake stop making pregnant people responsible for the welfare of our entire society.

Pointless negativity and the left

This is a slightly whingey post about how much we whinge, so let me state right up front that I can spot my own irony!

There’s a lot to get us down as progressive/lefty folk. The dominance capitalism feels insurmountable, we’re insulted at every turn for not getting with the cool neoliberal programme (or “learning math”) or sneered at to stop making such a bloody fuss.

It’s only natural that we will, now and then, throw up their hands and cry “this is all just useless, why do we bother?” It’s probably even natural – though often it’s also self-gratifying – to lament “why don’t people understand? Why do they keep electing these bastards?”

community why
And I don’t want to say “shut up, everyone, quit whinging.” Venting is great. It stops you exploding. We bond by being a sympathetic ear for each other when it all just seems hopeless.  And there’s plenty to critique our opponents for – we cannot accept their framing that the very act of opposition is “just being negative for no good reason”.

What I want – if I may make a tiny plea which everyone’s welcome to take or leave as they see fit – is for us to remember that yep, the task is difficult. The road is long. We’re all going to get really, really angry about it, many many times, on the way. But let’s bear in mind that we’re all meat popsicles, and we all have a limited amount of energy, and none of us can thrive and keep up the good fight if the only thing we ever hear is negativity, even from our own side.

fifth element meat popsicle

Specifically, this means that, dear comrades, we don’t have to add a nasty little comment on every single blog post or tweet or Facebook status update we see. We don’t have to snark “Not bloody likely, everyone loves John Key because they’re sheeple!!!!!” every time someone says “here’s a great new idea about how we change the government in 2017.”

(We definitely need to never, ever use the phrases “sheeple” or “sleepy hobbits” ever again.)

Maybe this is just something I notice because I spend a lot of time on blogs and social media. But it feels like every time someone says “here’s an interesting article. What do you reckon?” or “here’s my latest cool idea. What do you think?” the first comment is inevitably, “IT’S POINTLESS BECAUSE WE’RE ALL DOOOOOOOOOOOOOMED AND THE SHEEPLE ARE STUUUUUUUUUUPID.”

And there’s only one situation in which it’s acceptable to use the word “doomed”.


Find the place for ranting. Vent when you need to. But remember that we’re a community. And our experiences and attitudes are heavily impacted by the statements and images we see. When you’re screaming “John Key is destroying our country and there’s no hope”, you’re reinforcing, for everyone who reads it, that there is no hope. Who’s going to turn out to vote when there’s no hope? What do we campaign for if there’s no solution?

The other side want us demoralized and uninspired. They want us so focused on tearing each other down that we don’t organise to defeat them. Let’s stay angry – but stop playing their game.


Statement of the damn obvious: there’s a difference between pointless negativity and genuine disagreement. There’s a difference between pointless negativity and justified outrage. You can probably figure out which one I’m talking about.