New survey shows youth mental distress skyrocketing

National mental health plan urgently needed
Found in: News / Statements
Date: 19 June 2024

Over half of all New Zealanders aged 15-24 experience anxiety or depression – and numbers of young people with moderate to high distress have nearly doubled since 2016/17, a recent Ministry of Health survey shows.

The 2022/23 New Zealand Health Survey found that even though over a quarter of our young people experience high mental health need, the percentage who can’t access support when they need it has risen by 77%.

Mental Health Foundation (MHF) chief executive Shaun Robinson says the survey’s findings are proof Aotearoa New Zealand’s approach to mental health and addiction for young people is not working.

“Our country is experiencing a youth mental health crisis,” Mr Robinson says.

“These statistics are just appalling – and worst of all entirely preventable. Our young people are being failed by the piecemeal, cherry-picking approach taken by successive governments to our mental health system. A service here and a service there doesn’t work – and this is one of many reports that shows it.

“We need a national mental health plan that includes a specific youth mental health strand – and we challenge the Minister of Mental Health and Youth Affairs, Matt Doocey, to deliver this plan to the public by 30 June, 2025.”

The New Zealand Health Survey, which works on self-reported findings, found female, Māori, Pacific, Asian, disabled and rainbow young people were more likely than other groups to report experiencing mental health challenges.  

“Three-quarters of lifelong mental health challenges begin by age 25, and most rangatahi who experience poor mental health will experience further challenges in adulthood,” Mr Robinson says.

“Supporting young people with mental health challenges now can have a substantial positive impact on their lives.”

To address young people’s mental health needs, the MHF recommends the Government’s youth-specific strand of a mental health plan include:

  • young people's voices in the design of the plan – our rangatahi know what is impacting them and what they need
  • initiatives that both prevent poor mental health and promote good mental health practices, so young people have the skills to support their own and others’ mental wellbeing  
  • services tailored to what young people want – such as tikanga Māori services, youth-led services, or services offering alternatives to medication  
  • ‘youth one-stop shops’ – free services that are easy to access, don’t have long wait times, and are integrated with other services young people need, such as physical health and housing services, and job seeker support
  • removing barriers to young people accessing specialist services when they need them
  • an up-to-date and in-depth data prevalence survey, to inform where funding should be targeted, and what initiatives are needed
  • a robust workforce plan to deliver on the above initiatives.
“Our young people deserve better, and we must do better,” Mr Robinson says. 
“We look forward to seeing progress on a national mental health plan as soon as possible.”