Statistics on mental health in schools in New Zealand

The following figures are from public sources.

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 2020, around 11% (or 72000) of young adults aged 15-24 are experiencing psychological distress, up significantly from 5% in 2011/12.(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

School-based support for students’ mental health and wellbeing

In 2018, 62% of secondary school principals say they need, but cannot access, external expertise to help their school support and work with students on their wellbeing - a sharp rise from 36% in 2015. This was especially true in decile 1 and 2 schools. (6

Schools’ efforts to promote students’ mental health and wellbeing vary greatly. Some schools have well-embedded wellbeing strategies in place, while others are still exploring what works or are only partially implementing these strategies. (7

It is a legal requirement for schools to be working towards a bullying-free environment. Most schools have an active focus on student wellbeing and are working towards this, at least to some extent. Students in schools with effective anti-bullying strategies reported less bullying. (8

Student wellbeing

NZCER research into student wellbeing found that, on average:  

  • Boys’ wellbeing was no different to girls’ wellbeing.  
  • Older students had lower wellbeing than younger students.
  • Pasifika students had higher wellbeing than NZ European, Asian, and Other students.  
  • Māori students had the lowest levels of wellbeing.  
  • The wellbeing of students at decile 4–7 schools was lower than the wellbeing of students at other schools.
  • Students at schools where teachers actively taught for wellbeing had higher wellbeing than students at other schools. Teachers’ active involvement in this space proved even more effective than the school-wide wellbeing policies and practices. 
  • Students at schools with a broad range of school-wide policies and practices in place to promote wellbeing had higher wellbeing than students at other schools. (9

Bullying

New Zealand has the third highest rates of school bullying out of 36 OECD countries participating in the 2018 PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) survey. (10

In Aotearoa, 32% of students reported being bullied at least a few times a month, compared to 23% on average across OECD countries. At the same time, 93% of students in New Zealand (and 88% of students on average across OECD countries) agreed or strongly agreed that it is a good thing to help students who cannot defend themselves. (11

According to a 2013 study, most students (87%) felt safe at school all or most of the time, and that number tends to get higher as students get older. However, 9% of students said they had been afraid that someone at school would hurt or bother them in the past year and 6% reported being bullied at school weekly or more often. Both figures were higher among younger students. (12

Students who had been frequently bullied were also more likely to avoid going to school, have significant depressive symptoms, or attempt suicide. (13

The TIMSS [Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study] findings point to a strong link between how safe students feel in a school and their achievement in mathematics: “Students’ perceptions of school climate seem to be positively associated with their academic motivation, sense of school belonging, attitudes towards learning and positive social behaviours and attitudes in general.” (14

Boys, students from disadvantaged or immigrant backgrounds, and low achieving students are at higher risk. We see this trend happening not just in Aotearoa, but globally. (15) Gender-diverse students are the most vulnerable, as they experience all bullying behaviours far more often than their peers who identify as male or female. (16)

 Bullying behaviour reported often by students, broken down by gende

Figure 1. Bullying behaviour reported often by students, broken down by gender.(17)


References

  1. Ministry of Health. (2018). Social, emotional and behavioural difficulties in New Zealand children: summary of findings. Wellington: Ministry of Health. Retrieved from https://www.health.govt.nz/publication/social-emotional-and-behavioural-difficulties-new-zealand-children-new-zealand-health-survey  

  2. Ministry of Health. (2022). Health and independence report 2020. Ministry of Health https://www.health.govt.nz/publication/health-and-independence-report-2020  

  3. p. 10.   Fleming, T., Tiatia-Seath, J., Peiris-John, R., Sutcliffe, K., Archer, D., Bavin, L., Crengle, S., & Clark, T. (2020). Youth19 Rangatahi Smart Survey: Initial findings: Hauora hinengaro: Emotional and mental health (Youth2000 Survey Series). The Youth19 Research Group, The University of Auckland and Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5bdbb75ccef37259122e59aa/t/5f338e4cfb539d2246e9e5ce/1597214306382/Youth19+Mental+Health+Report.pdf

  4. p. 16.  Fleming, T., Tiatia-Seath, J., Peiris-John, R., Sutcliffe, K., Archer, D., Bavin, L., Crengle, S., & Clark, T. (2020). Youth19 Rangatahi Smart Survey: Initial findings: Hauora hinengaro: Emotional and mental health (Youth2000 Survey Series). The Youth19 Research Group, The University of Auckland and Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5bdbb75ccef37259122e59aa/t/5f338e4cfb539d2246e9e5ce/1597214306382/Youth19+Mental+Health+Report.pdf

  5. p. 18. Fleming, T., Tiatia-Seath, J., Peiris-John, R., Sutcliffe, K., Archer, D., Bavin, L., Crengle, S., & Clark, T. (2020). Youth19 Rangatahi Smart Survey: Initial findings: Hauora hinengaro: Emotional and mental health (Youth2000 Survey Series). The Youth19 Research Group, The University of Auckland and Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5bdbb75ccef37259122e59aa/t/5f338e4cfb539d2246e9e5ce/1597214306382/Youth19+Mental+Health+Report.pdf

  6. p. 2. Bonne, L., & MacDonald, J. (2018). Secondary schools in 2018: Findings from the NZCER national survey. Retrieved from NZCER website: https://www.nzcer.org.nz/system/files/NZCER%20Nat-Survey-Report-Secondary2018-Full-report.pdf 

  7. p. 7. Wylie, C., & McDonald, J. (2020). Student wellbeing and positive behaviour—Findings from the NZCER 2019 National survey of English-medium primary schools. NZCER. https://www.nzcer.org.nz/system/files/Student%20wellbeing%20and%20positive%20behaviour%20-%20findings%20from%20the%20NZCER%202019%20National%20survey%20of%20English-medium%20primary%20schools.pdf 

  8. p. 11; p. 14. Education Review Office. (2019). Bullying prevention and response in New Zealand schools. Retrieved from Education Review Office website: https://ero.govt.nz/our-research/bullying-prevention-and-response-in-new-zealand-schools-may-2019 

  9. p. 26. Lawes, E., & Boyd, S. (2018). Making a difference to student wellbeing: A data exploration. New Zealand Council for Educational Research. Retrieved from https://www.nzcer.org.nz/research/publications/making-difference-student-wellbeing-data-exploration 

  10.  OECD. (2019). PISA 2018 results (volume III): What school life means for students’ lives. https://doi.org/10.1787/acd78851-en 

  11. Avvisati, F., Echazarra, A., Givord, P., & Schwabe, M. (2019). Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results for PISA 2018: Country note: New Zealand. Retrieved from OECD website: https://www.oecd.org/pisa/publications/PISA2018_CN_NZL.pdf 

  12. Clark, T., Fleming, T., Bullen, P., Denny, S., Crengle, S., Dyson, B., … Adolescent Health Research Group. (2013). Youth’12 overview: the health and wellbeing of New Zealand secondary school students in 2012. Auckland, N.Z.: University of Auckland. https://www.fmhs.auckland.ac.nz/assets/fmhs/faculty/ahrg/docs/2012-overview.pdf 

  13. Boyd, S. (2011). Wellbeing@School: building a safe and caring school climate that deters bullying: overview paper “work in progress” document. Wellington, N.Z.: NZCER. Retrieved from http://www.nzcer.org.nz/system/files/building-safe-caring-school-climate-deters-bullying.pdf 

  14. p. 104-5. Caygill, R., Singh, S., & Hanlar, V. (2016). TIMSS 2014/15 Mathematics Year 5: Trends over 20 years in TIMSS: Findings from TIMSS 2014/15. Ministry of Education. https://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/180388/TIMSS-2014-Maths-Y5-Report.pdf

  15. p. 53. OECD. (2019).

  16. p. 13.  Education Review Office. (2019). Bullying prevention and response in New Zealand schools. Retrieved from Education Review Office website: https://ero.govt.nz/our-research/bullying-prevention-and-response-in-new-zealand-schools-may-2019 

  17. p. 13. Education Review Office. (2019).