The young people we spoke to want better, more accessible mental health services, education and support specifically for young people.
Serious concerns about mental health came up in every workshop, interview and more than any other response (372 times) in the open-field survey question, “What do you think are the biggest issues or challenges facing young people in New Zealand?”
Many of the young people we engaged with believe that mental health services need more funding.
“The mental health system needs funding. I spent last night at a 21st having conversations [about] mental health. Out of the eight people I spoke to, six had some form of depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder, only four were on medication and only one had managed to have therapy and one had made a suicide attempt in the last month. We were all under 21.” - Bee, 20, Female, Wellington
They also believed mental health workers should be looked after, and well-trained.
“Mental health services should be both accessible and available, and mental health support staff should not be overworked and underpaid.” - Zak, 17, Gender Diverse, Stratford
“Mental health services should be accessible to everyone and these services should be fully trained in LGBTQIA+ specific issues so it's not a hit-and-miss scenario of whether or not they're homo/transphobic when you see a health professional.” - Sophie, 18, Female, Nelson
There was also a strong desire from young people for better mental health education to be available in schools.
“The NCEA system puts too much pressure on college students and takes the fun out of being a teenager, when this time of your life is meant to be fun and more carefree than when you are an adult. School students are not built to deal with so much stress and long hours of school and then homework. I would like to see more counsellors and mental health help in schools. I would not even know how to go about finding a counsellor at my school. Being a teenager - trying to figure out what you want in life and what your place is in the world - combined with NCEA is perhaps one of the most stressful and crucial times in your life, but mental health support is fundamentally lacking in schools.” - Eva, 16, Female, Wellington
“We have literally had no mental health education at school and we need it. We also need more emphasis and from a younger age on different sexual and gender identities being okay.” - Anon, 16, Gender Diverse, Nelson
We interviewed a teacher who has experience teaching young people in the Far North and Auckland, and they agreed with what we had heard from young people through the survey.
“You've got kids from a whole range of different backgrounds, even high decile kids going to school super stressed and anxious all the time or under a huge amount of pressure but who aren't given tools to manage. Parents put pressure on the kids and it exacerbates it.
It's hard because if you look at the New Zealand curriculum, there are these key competencies that are designed and written to teach people skills like relating to others, but that all gets compromised in favour of teaching maths and science so we can generate data for assessments so students get good grades.
I think we need to get better at identifying systems that will support development of the soft skills that promote all round wellbeing.” - Anon, Teacher, Auckland
This teacher went on to say:
“Teachers have become [de-facto] social workers in a way. I guess teachers have always been social workers but now they are overworked social workers that are told they need to generate data for assessments. We now teach to assessment rather than teach to enhance learning or develop skills which has a huge impact on young people’s wellbeing”
Many of the young people expressed a desire for better mental health services specific to different sexualities and gender identities.
“The issues for our [rainbow] community are an extension of the needs that everyone has, which is to be understood, to have our diversity valued. All young people need that, it’s just that our young people need that more so. It's something they are less likely to have.” - Victoria Trow, Support Manager at Rainbow Youth
“Gender diverse youth often find that teachers, peers, parents, health and social services do not adequately understand or respond to them appropriately, and this can be compounded when overlaid with diverse cultural and language identities, and socio-economic demographics. This creates isolation and prejudice which leads to bigger issues.” - Anon, Youth worker in drugs and alcohol space
People also spoke about their desire for safe and non-judgemental spaces where young people can be free to explore themselves and their identities.
“I think youth are really time poor and resource poor. The youth that I see in schools talk about how there are so many expectations put on them. By the time they are in senior level, almost every lunch time is taken up with meetings, clubs, team stuff. That's true in the lower and higher decile schools.”
“I’ve heard lots of school counsellors say that there’s been a massive shift in the burden being put on young people but they don't see young people as being less resilient then they were 10 or 15 years ago. They see them as being directly under more pressure and that makes me really sad. There’s a lot of competition and pressure and communities are a lot less connected and empathetic. There’s not enough space for young people to do meaningful inner work. I see how anxious they are, not really coping to contextualise the pressure they are under.
“There's a window in emotional maturity and development when you’re young that they are not really getting the space to explore. I’m seeing kids that are 11 or 12 and they are thinking, ‘Oh my god, I've got to make a decision about my future and I’ve got to excel at something.’ They’re not getting given time and space to reflect and grow.” - Anon, Youth worker in sexual health
“There are just not enough opportunities and spaces for rangatahi to grow into healthy adults.” - Jordan, 23, Male, Timaru
“There is a lot of pressure from society, social media to be perfect - imperfections that are characteristic of growing up and being human are rarely exalted or even encouraged.” - Aleisha, 18, Female, Paraparaumu
Many young people spoke about a lot of parental, societal or peer pressure.
“The world that’s been made for teenagers is hard. Young people are already going through enough biological changes in their body, brain and feelings of personal identity, then we make them balance grades, earn money while doing community work or volunteering for scholarships, leadership, after school activities to be involved so they are well-rounded. As well as actually sleeping, exercising, eating, having a social life, actually relaxing, as well as dealing with the social pressure of social media? Why is there so much on their plate when figuring out themselves is enough already? It just seems so dumb to me and the fact depression and anxiety and suicide is so prevalent in teenagers honestly doesn't even surprise me with what we expect teenagers to be able to handle.”- Anon, 17, Female, Wellington
“Young people today are facing depression, mental illness, the toxic rape culture, pressure to do as well as past generations in dramatically different circumstances (i.e in the age of social media, climate change, not being able to afford a house, etc.). And at the same time, we’re being told we're the generation who will have to solve the world's problems.” - Isobel, 15, Female, Tawa
There was also a desire for young people to get the tools they need to help other people struggling with mental health or other issues.
“I want more opportunities to speak about my personal problems and opinions, as well as opportunities to help others with theirs.” - Joshua, 16, Christchurch
“I want to see a bigger move for people to get involved in their communities. Some of the mental health problems we are seeing could be resolved if we were given space and time to live for others and understand how sometimes their situation is worse off.” - Hadassah, 19, Christchurch