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Youth mental health is declining - what can we do?

Davina Zimmer
Headline pic
Youth are struggling with their mental health  Created by Davina Zimmer

Trigger Warning - this article discusses mental health and suicide.

Analysis of both Youth19 and previous Youth2000 surveys has revealed after remaining relatively stable between 2001 and 2012, mental health is rapidly declining among teenagers.

This is based on the latest data in the Youth2000 series of health and wellbeing surveys.

The data represents a pool of 7891 rangatahi, mostly high school students, with 92 from alternative education and 78 who are not in education, training or employment.

The decline is apparent across all demographics. However ethnic and socio-economic disparities have widened with females, Māori, Pasifika and Asian students, as well as those from highly deprived neighbourhoods being disproportionately affected.

The New Zealand Office of the Chief Coroner releases national suspected suicide statistics each year to help suicide prevention efforts and initiatives undertaken by other agencies.

In the latest provisional data, suicide rates among those aged 15 to 24 remain the highest out of all age brackets. Despite dropping between 2019 to 2020, numbers rose again in 2021.

Chair of the Youth Hub Trust Sue Bagshaw says the rise isn't surprising and believes traumatic experiences are at the root of the issue of rising mental health needs. 

“It’s what happens inside you as a result of what’s happening around you.”

She feels modern living demands a lot from young people, with tests all the way from kindergarten to tertiary education. The ever-rising influence of social media, along with expectations from both parents and society when it comes to being successful, were also factors.

Bagshaw also believes significant events such as the Christchurch earthquakes and the Mosque terror attack have a long-term impact which may be triggered by smaller interactions later on.

Youth Hub Trust Chair, Dame Sue Bagshaw
Youth Hub Trust Chair, Dame Sue Bagshaw Davina Zimmer
“It’s what happens inside you as a result of what’s happening around you.”
Youth Hub Trust Chair, Dame Sue Bagshaw

With the Youth19 survey revealing 19% of participants are having trouble with getting help for their emotional concerns, Bagshaw hopes the new Youth Hub village of positive well-being services will support Ōtautahi youth’s growth to become contributing citizens of society.

The first stage is expected to be completed by mid next year.

Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor.

Lifeline – 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP).

Youthline – 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email or online chat.

Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO).

Healthline – 0800 611 116