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Youth health and development services are struggling

Youth health and development services are struggling to meet growing demand with scarce resource.

Youth development services are working to prevent mental health concerns from escalating and providing much needed health promotion. However, this work is being side-lined by crisis and urgent social issues. A wealth of evidence from Aotearoa and overseas that shows dealing with issues early on saves money in the long term.

“Labour’s commitment to delivering a trained youth health nurse and comprehensive wraparound teams to work in every secondary school in the country is evidence based,” says Dr Sue Bagshaw. According to many in the sector, Labour’s policy is supported by research undertaken by the Auckland Health Research Group known as the Youth 2000 study, which surveyed large numbers of secondary school students about their health and wellbeing in 2001, 2007 and again in 2012. “What’s disappointing is how little other political parties are engaging with the questions that are posed about our young people’s wellbeing in New Zealand,” continues Dr Bagshaw.

In fact, funding for Youth 2000 and studies like it, which illuminate some of the reasons why New Zealand’s youth suicide rate outstrips any other country in the OECD, are under threat. Dr Simon Denny, one of the leading members of the Youth 2000 research group, says: “This study has produced much information on which to base good policy and practice and yet it is now not current, because funding cannot be found to find out how the pressures are changing now for our high school students.”

And other evidence based interventions are not being funded in a way that enables them to be effective. “There are Youth One Stop Shops around the country which are all providing services that can reduce the level of stress, mental distress and mental illness and help to prevent suicide, but they cannot continue to do this on the smell of an oily rag,” said Trissel Eriksen part of the leadership group of the Network of Youth One Stop Shops (NYOSS). If mental health professionals could be placed into community services such as those in NYOSS and others it would relieve the pressure on the secondary services and emergency departments.

The SUPERU Summary of Findings from the Phase 2 Evaluation of the Prime Ministers Youth Mental Health Project (May 2017) identified key areas that will make a bigger impact on youth wellbeing and these can be delivered through Youth One Stop Shops that are based in the community, alongside comprehensive school based health services. “Youth One Stop Shops deliver early identification and support with the greatest economic value, wide coverage and moderate cost for moderate impact” (page 5).

The latest in a long series of suicide prevention plans has just been released by the MOH for consultation. “This latest version has some great sentiments about the community working together”, said Dr Sue Bagshaw (primary care youth health specialist) “but precious little about extra resources.”

Lee-Anne O’Brien, the chairperson of the Society of Youth Health Practitioners Aotearoa New Zealand (SYHPANZ) says, “We are ready, able and willing to work with young people to change some of our negative national statistics.” “But goodwill and passionate people are no longer enough” said Anya Satyanand, EO at Ara Taiohi, the peak body for youth development.


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