Two females sharing a Hongi

Parliamentary cross-party report calls for more integrated youth services to tackle growing mental distress amongst young people

Monday , 4 September 2023 by Alaina McGregor

The rates of mental distress amongst New Zealand’s young people are increasing rapidly, highlighting an urgent need for more integrated youth mental health services, according to a new report commissioned by the Mental Health and Addictions Wellbeing cross-party working group.

Funded by Southern Cross, the ‘Under One Umbrella’ report reviewed the national and international literature relating to models of integrated mental health, alcohol, and other drug use (MH&AOD) care for young people and identified some potential opportunities for change in New Zealand.

The cross-party working group (the group), consisting of the ACT’s Mark Cameron, Greens’ Chlöe Swarbrick, Labour’s Glen Bennett, National’s Matt Doocey, and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer of Te Pāti Māori, said the report’s findings highlight the significant gap between young people’s need for mental health and addiction services and their level of engagement with them.

The group said the report also demonstrates the need for government agencies to work together and prioritise the development of integrated youth services with a strong MH&AOD component.

The current situation

The research shows high or very high levels of psychological distress were reported by nearly a quarter (23.6%) of people aged 15-24 years in 2021/22. This is up from 5.1% reported in 2011/12. 1

Despite having the highest incidence of mental ill health, the report found that young people have the poorest access to MH&AOD services.

The report, researched and authored by Phillipa Gaines of Lattice Consulting, concluded that there are some areas of effective integrated services that support thousands of rangatahi every day. However, inequitable and inconsistent resourcing overall is putting pressure on these types of services, especially given the rapid increase in the rate of youth mental distress.

The group said the rates of mental distress amongst the country’s young people has been of concern for some time. The group added that with recent research in New Zealand indicating that there is no single explanation for this increase, it means that there is no single solution to addressing it.

While there are examples of effective and successful mental health and addiction services for young people across New Zealand, the report found there is clearly room to do much more to ensure better consistency, with the active involvement of multiple stakeholders.

Priority groups of young people with higher mental health needs

Data also points to worsening patterns of inequity for some sub-groups of New Zealand’s youth.

This is especially the case for females, Māori, Pacific and Asian young people, neurodiverse and rainbow youth, and those from high deprivation areas.

Young people in disadvantaged or marginalised groups have much higher risks of mental illness, substance use and suicide, and therefore need targeted attention, the report concluded.

Prioritising the youth voice

The report also examined elements of successful integrated youth MH&AOD services and found that internationally, having youth participate in the planning, design, and delivery of these services offered a greater likelihood of success.

The report recommends incorporating a youth point of view, as it is especially important for young people to see themselves reflected in the environment they’re receiving help from.

The ‘Under One Umbrella’ report notes that young people generally are reluctant to reach out for help.

Chief Brand and Communications Officer for Southern Cross, Joanne Mahon said, “as an organisation committed to the health and wellbeing of New Zealanders, Southern Cross is privileged to be able to support development of this valuable report.

“This work reaffirms the importance of cross-party collaboration on areas of priority, in this case, the mental health issues of the young people of Aotearoa New Zealand.”

A four-step plan

The report identifies 14 potential opportunities for change within this space, recommending a four-step plan that will create a strong platform for improving young people’s access to integrated MH&AOD services.

Those steps are:

  1. Have health and social sector leaders prioritise investment in the mental health of young people and co-commission integrated youth programmes that span multiple areas.
  2. Have more cross-sectoral activities that integrate services and increase the national consistency of service coverage and quality – but also recognise the need for local flexibility.
  3. Have good information to track progress, improve services, and increase accountability.
  4. Feature the voice of young people throughout the process.

The cross-party group said addressing the mental health needs of young New Zealanders is its top priority and that creating a network of community-based integrated youth MH&AOD care through these four steps can help address the current issues.

Access the full  Under One Umbrella report here.