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In the wake of Golriz Ghahraman’s decision to step down from her portfolios and then resign from Parliament following allegations of shoplifting, a spotlight has once again been cast on the crucial issue of mental well-being, particularly in the context of the workplace environment.

The unfolding events not only bring attention to an individual’s struggle but also prompt a broader conversation on the mental health challenges faced not only by those in high-profile positions but all New Zealanders working hard to make a living, especially in the face of mounting challenges like the cost of living crisis and sharply deteriorating law and order.

Ghahraman’s acknowledgment of her mental health struggles in the face of these allegations underscores the pervasive impact of such issues on individuals across various walks of life. It takes courage to confront personal challenges openly, and her decision to prioritise her well-being sends a powerful message about the importance of addressing mental health concerns without stigma or judgment.

NZ’s political landscape has witnessed instances of physical, verbal, and online attacks on parliamentarians, creating an environment that adds additional strain to the already demanding nature of public service. From the physical assault on Green Party co-leader James Shaw to the infamous incident involving former National MP Steven Joyce, the need for a comprehensive approach to mental well-being within the political realm is evident.

Ghahraman’s case is not isolated, as she, too, has faced threats and abuse throughout her years in parliament. The toxic atmosphere surrounding public figures raises questions about the adequacy of support structures in place for those who serve in such demanding roles. The toll on mental health is an issue that requires urgent attention, not only for the individuals directly affected but for the overall health of society.

The challenges associated with mental health are certainly not confined to high-profile individuals; indeed, they permeate every layer of society. In NZ, a stark example lies in the retail and public transport sectors, where workers routinely face a barrage of abuse and violence in the course of their daily jobs. Ram raids, shop invasions, and violent hold-ups have sadly become commonplace occurrences, placing a heavy burden on the mental well-being of workers in these sectors.

Retail employees, in particular, have repeatedly voiced their concerns about the severe stress they endure. The nature of their work makes them vulnerable to various forms of abuse, creating an environment where the mental health of these essential workers is consistently under strain. While the spotlight often focuses on high-profile figures, the mental health challenges faced by everyday New Zealanders, the mum-and-dad Kiwis, should not be relegated to the shadows.

These challenges underscore the need for a comprehensive approach to mental health that recognises the diverse range of professions and industries affected. It is imperative to acknowledge the toll that such stressful work environments can take on the mental well-being of individuals who may not have the public visibility of high-profile figures but are equally deserving of support.

Moreover, as we discuss mental health in the context of errant behaviour, it is crucial to emphasise that no individual, regardless of their status or position, should be excused solely on the grounds of mental health. While understanding and compassion are vital, the law must take its own course. This principle is essential not only for upholding justice but also for safeguarding the mental health of society as a whole.

The premise of mental well-being should never be exploited as a shield to condone misconduct. It is imperative to strike a balance between acknowledging mental health challenges and holding individuals accountable for their actions. Society’s mental health is intertwined with a collective commitment to justice and accountability, demonstrating that the principles of mental well-being must not be misused to justify inappropriate behaviour. Only through such a balanced and nuanced approach can we foster a society that prioritizes both mental health and the principles of fairness and responsibility.

As we navigate the complexities of Ghahraman’s case, it is essential to recognise the broader implications it holds for discussions surrounding workplace-related mental health issues. Organisations and institutions, including political parties, must prioritise the well-being of their members, fostering environments that encourage open dialogue and provide necessary resources to address mental health challenges.

The challenges faced by Ghahraman should serve as a catalyst for positive change, prompting a reassessment of the support structures available to all Kiwis. The new government has done well by appointing a Minister for Mental Health. They have their work cut out.

First appeared in the 17 January 2024 issues of the Indian Weekender.