Mental health in children and young people
A 2018 survey by the Ministry of Health revealed that most of New Zealand children aged 3–14 years are developing well, without major social, emotional and/or behavioural problems. Still, the SDQ [strengths and difficulties questionnaire] showed that we have a long way to go in ensuring better mental health for our children, given that about 8% (or 57,000) of our tamariki experience significant difficulties. (1)
In 2021/22, nearly one in four (23.6%) young people aged 15–24 years experienced high or very high levels of psychological distress, up from 11% in 2020.(2)
Māori and Pasifika youth groups are often more vulnerable. A Youth19 study showed that emotional and mental wellbeing among rangatahi Māori between 2012 and 2019 had declined:
- Positive wellbeing (as measured by the WHO-5 wellbeing index) dropped from 75% to 67%.
- Their significant depressive symptoms rose from 14% to 28%.
- The number of those who had attempted suicide in the past 12 months rose from 6% to 13%. (3)
The same study revealed a similar worsening trend for the emotional and mental wellbeing of Pasifika youth:
- Their significant depressive symptoms increased from 14% to 25%.
- The number of those who attempted suicide in the past 12 months increased from 7% to 12%. (4)
In general, young people who identify with a sexual or gender minority group are more at risk of stress, distress, and suicide (Clark et al., 2014; Lucassen et al., 2017). Youth with intersectional identities (e.g., queer Asian youth or Māori who are disabled and bisexual), can also be at a higher risk (Chiang et al., 2017). However, there’s encouraging evidence that inclusive environments, like rainbow-friendly schools and communities, can greatly lower these risks (Denny et al., 2016b; Lucassen et al., 2017). (5)