Being a young person in this world ain’t easy. Emotions are haywire, climate change is a real threat, and social media watches everything you do. Not to mention having a still-developing brain with a highly active stress response. It’s no surprise that so many of our youth are having a hard time. But every brain can be trained to thrive, and the younger you start, the better.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, we are in an “absolute crisis”, as the waitlists for youth mental health services continue to skyrocket. Our children and young people are struggling, and they’re asking for help. They have rights to access mental health care, and the Children’s Commissioner has responded to the crisis by calling it a breach of these rights.
"Children and young people have rights, including under the UN Children's Convention, to the very best standard of health, and access to care when they need it, ” says spokesperson. “This is not happening for all mokopuna."
According to the Children’s Commissioner, we are denying our youth the opportunity for a full childhood. This is part of a larger problem for Aotearoa, and Mental Health Foundation Chief Executive Shaun Robinson estimates that one million people are impacted each year by a significant mental health challenge.
"That makes mental health the biggest health issue in the country next to Covid-19,” Robinson says. “I don't think that's ever really being recognised."
There is a lot of change in a young person's life. They are trying to figure out who they are, how to establish and navigate relationships, and what direction to take their future and career path. Their brain is also changing, and the part where we feel stress, anxiety and fear is active in full force.
During these stages of development, the brain is working in a way to encourage risk taking behaviour, but without the full capability to differentiate between good and bad decisions.
All of these changes have the potential to bring on mental health problems at an early age.
The youth19 survey researched youth mental health and wellbeing, and found only 69% of youth were reported to have good emotional wellbeing.
They found that the most predominant issues for our youth were social media and technology, bleak futures and climate change, pressure and risky choices. Today, with life being disrupted by the pandemic, lockdowns and climate change, these stressors are clearly growing.
According to the survey, Youthline experienced a 50% increase in the number of texts from young people contacting its Helpline for support during the pandemic. The most common texts were related to suicide, depression, anxiety and self-harm.
Why we need to act now:
These issues cannot be ignored. It is extremely concerning that our national teenage suicide rates (those of our 15-19 year olds) are amongst the highest in the OECD. There is a rapid increase in youth psychological distress, yet we are not providing our youth with easily accessible mental health services.
We need to act now. If we don’t, we will continue to significantly harm the overall wellbeing of our youth, and cause rippling effects throughout their lifetime. According to the World Health Organisation, the promotion and protection of mental health can improve quality of life, strengthen human capital, contribute to socioeconomic development and lead to a more equitable world.
What we can do:
Provide mindfulness, mental well-being tools and spaces for genuine connection for young minds. REMiND has a course for teens called Brain Waves.