New Zealand becomes first in world to unveil 'well-being' budget

New Zealand on Thursday announced a new budget worth billions of dollars to benefit mental health services and child poverty in its first so-called "well-being" budget.

Unveiled by the country's liberal-led government, the bill intends to measure social outcomes like health and the environment alongside traditional metrics such as economic growth.

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The budget will increase spending on mental health by $1.2 billion over the next four years. Some of that will include extra money for suicide prevention services as the country tries to tackle its high suicide rate.

Documents from the budget also indicate that an extra 81,000 people will have access to free mental health and addiction services.

A man sits with a bowl asking for money in the central business district of Christchurch, New Zealand, Thursday, May 30, 2019.

A man sits with a bowl asking for money in the central business district of Christchurch, New Zealand, Thursday, May 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

“The old way of doing things has left too many people behind,” Finance Minister Grant Robertson said. “New Zealanders want us to measure our success, and invest on their behalf, in line with their values. The values of fairness, the protection of the environment, the strength of our communities.”

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The budget is the first since the massacre in Christchurch earlier this year, in which a gunman killed 51 people at two mosques. The budget includes money for a gun buyback scheme after the government introduced new laws banning the types of semi-automatic weapons often used in mass shootings.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told local media earlier this week that the government "made mental health one of five priorities in this budget."

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said recently she believes that while mental health is a "global crisis," New Zealand "is one of the few countries that talk openly about its mental health issues."

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said recently she believes that while mental health is a "global crisis," New Zealand "is one of the few countries that talk openly about its mental health issues." (AP Photo/Yong Teck Lim)

"We do want to change the way that people access services and use services in this country. It is going to take us some time. This is an area where there has just been inadequate resourcing," she said.

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Ardern added that mental health is a "great global crisis in health care," but noted that she believes New Zealand "is one of the few countries that talk openly about its mental health issues."

A man sleeps on the street in the central business district of Christchurch, New Zealand, Thursday, May 30, 2019.

A man sleeps on the street in the central business district of Christchurch, New Zealand, Thursday, May 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

The new approach on supporting peoples' "well-being" has been lauded by some internationally but criticized by the conservative opposition as meaningless window-dressing.

Opposition Leader Simon Bridges said the budget had been “botched.” He said families wanted more money for food, gas and rent, but instead taxes were being spent on rail, defense and trees.

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“The economy is sharply declining and the government is doing nothing to encourage growth,” Bridges said, noting the budget included extra money for classrooms but not for teachers, who have been striking for better pay and conditions.

Bridges added he believes the budget is "style over substance" and while "it might have a glossy cover with nice pictures ... it’s hollow inside.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.