‘Gap’ in access to mental health for young people, but strong relationships help

'Gap' in access to mental health for young people, but strong relationships help

Experts say improving the accessibility, availability and widening choice of mental health services is key, as new research shows some 12-year-olds are struggling to get help.

The Growing Up Longitudinal Study in New Zealand, involving approximately 4400 12-year-olds and their whnau, examined young people’s symptoms of depression and anxiety, demographic factors and changes in mental health over time.

Many young people are doing well, but it found that, on average, children who experienced symptoms of depression and anxiety by age 8 had even worse symptoms by age 12.

Among these ages, 52% showed an increase in depression symptoms and 37% reported an increase in anxiety symptoms, leading the researchers to call for an increase in early support to reduce adverse outcomes for young people.

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Findings also highlighted the importance of strong, positive relationships for young people’s mental health and the negative impact bullying can have underlining the importance of addressing and preventing bullying in school and other settings.

They found that 8.8% of young people had contact with mental health services in the previous 12 months.

Over half (57%) “got everything they needed” from public or private mental health services, which lead author and researcher Dr Ben Fletcher called highly encouraging.

It indicates that those who seek help and can engage are able to access appropriate support that is helpful.

Dr Ben Fletcher, a researcher at Growing Up in New Zealand, said the findings show many young people are doing well and that cultivating relationships and fostering a sense of belonging is important for young people's well-being.

PROVIDED/Stuff

Dr Ben Fletcher, a researcher at Growing Up in New Zealand, said the findings show many young people are doing well and that cultivating relationships and fostering a sense of belonging is important for young people’s well-being.

However, many reported not having their needs met (39.4%).

For those who didn’t get everything they needed, 28.5 percent were unable to get an appointment or the service was not accessible, the report said.

There is still a gap that needs to be filled.

Furthermore, 15.8% were not eligible for mental health services.

Some 12-year-olds were more likely to experience symptoms of depression than others.

This included transgender and non-binary youth, those living in the most socio-economically deprived neighborhoods, and Rangatahi Mori.

University of Auckland senior lecturer Dr John Fenaughty said that while many young people are doing well, some groups face additional stressors that can make life difficult for them.

While bullying increased symptoms of depression and anxiety, stronger relationships with parents and peers were associated with lower depression and anxiety.

Kathryn George/Stuff

While bullying increased symptoms of depression and anxiety, stronger relationships with parents and peers were associated with lower depression and anxiety.

For this reason, it is essential that schools, homes and communities are free from discrimination and are a positive place for young people of all genders and ethnicities.

This has been confirmed by research.

They found that strong relationships with parents and peers were associated with lower depression and anxiety by age 12.

This was the case for Ebony, who doesn’t want her last name used to protect her privacy.

At age 9 or 10, Ebony started self-harming. When his parents found out, they sought help from a couple of different places.

But surrounding herself with people who would make her feel better, especially her friends, was what really helped Ebony, she said.

Sometimes not talking about it helped me forget.

ALDEN WILLIAMS/STUFF

Koiauruterangi Fraser, 16, attended a Mori resilience training program after losing faith in her abilities. (First published February 2021)

Now nearly 15, Ebony is in a better space and says if people are struggling, they should find sources of support that work for them.

Fletcher said the discovery about the importance of strong relationships should be seen as a potential avenue for adding more support for young people.

This included ensuring youth, parents and whnau had the tools and environment to nurture and foster a sense of belonging and meaningful, strong relationships, she said.

A spokesperson for Te Whatu Ora said it is committed to improving and transforming the mental health system to ensure timely access to care for anyone in need of support, regardless of age or location, and to provide specialized mental health services for newborns. , children and adolescents (ICAMHS) was a priority.

The 2022 budget saw an additional $18.7 million over four years to expand ICAMHS services, increasing capacity to see approximately 1300 additional children and young people annually by 2025/26.

It is also working to expand mental health and well-being services in tertiary education; and providing education counseling through programs like Mana Ake, she said.

It has also increased funding for telehealth services, including Youthline, and digital services such as the Headstrong app, all to improve equitable access to mental health services.

The Ministry of Health’s interim chief clinical adviser, John Zonnevylle, said Rangatahi Mori and trans and non-binary youth are a priority for policy and policy work, as they have higher levels of mental distress and lower levels of mental well-being compared to many other groups.

This is unfair.

Zonnevylle said higher rates of anxiety and depression at age 8 predict higher rates at age 12, meaning we need to ensure children (and their families) have access to effective support to mental well-being when they need it.

We know that early intervention and literacy building on mental wellbeing are key to supporting better mental health outcomes for New Zealanders throughout their lives.

Where to get help:

Lifeline (open 24/7) – 0800 543 354

Depression Helpline (open 24/7) – 0800 111 757

Health line (open 24/7) – 0800 611 116

Samaritans (open 24/7) – 0800 726 666

Suicidal crisis helpline (open 24/7) – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide or for those who are worried about family or friends.

Youth line (open 24/7) – 0800 376 633. You can also send a free text to 234 between 8am and midnight or email talk@youthline.co.nz

0800 WHAT HAPPENS Children’s Helpline – telephone 0800 9428 787 between 1pm and 10pm on weekdays and 3pm and 10pm at weekends. Online chat available every day from 19:00 to 22:00.

Children’s line (open 24/7) – 0800 543 754. This service is for children aged 5 to 18. Those who call between 4pm and 9pm on weekdays will speak to a Kidsline friend. These are specially trained teen telephone counselors.

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