National Survey another example NZ is lagging in youth mental health

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

The Association’s School Guidance Counsellor portfolio holder, Jean Andrews, raises the question following the NZ Council for Educational Research’s release of its findings yesterday.

Beginning in 2003, the National Survey of Secondary Schools 2018 is repeated every three years.

It found that since 2015, the proportion of principals who say their school cannot access external expertise to work with students with mental health needs increased sharply, from 36% to 62%.

“I’d say that figure would be even higher now,” Ms Andrews says.

“People are clamouring for better and more wellbeing for our students, which I’m all for. But these youth can’t get into see the counsellor.

“That’s the dilemma – we’re encouraging people to speak about their problems but at their local school, these kids must go on a waiting list for months to see their counsellor.

“This is the quandary; the mixed messages we’re giving to our young people.”

Additionally, the research found students from decile 1 and 2 schools were in greater need of support than those in higher deciles.

“In decile 1-2 schools, fewer teachers were receiving training to recognise mental health warning signs in students, and fewer teachers were able to refer students to receive timely support,” Senior Researcher Dr Linda Bonne said.

One of the methods for addressing these issues is to reduce the student to counsellor ratio, Ms Andrews says.

But she also says early intervention is crucial, especially for young students whose wellbeing is critical to their ability to learn at school.

In addition, she would like to see a functional team within all schools that includes counsellors on the ground.

“Counsellors could also come up with a plan that may involve outside agencies. And if this team or service was more seamless and efficient, then we would have to send fewer children down the mental health path.”

She says examples of better systems implemented in schools in Australia, the UK and US should be seriously considered as options within a New Zealand context.

However, that’s not to say strategies to improve students’ mental wellbeing aren’t being implemented here already. Ms Andrews says Otago region are doing good work in this area.

“But on the whole, we are lagging behind in picking up our resourcing for youth mental health – it’s no secret our youth suicide is the highest in the western world.”