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Study results a reminder that youth need acceptance and belonging

New research co-led by a Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington researcher shows that while more than two-thirds of high school-aged New Zealanders reported good wellbeing, an increasing number of students are reporting high levels of distress. 

Findings show that while more than two-thirds of students reported good wellbeing, 23 percent reported significant symptoms of depression. This has almost doubled for many groups since 2012. Symptoms are higher among female students, Māori and Pasifika students, Asian students, those in lower income communities and those from sexual and gender minority groups. 

The survey also looked at suicide attempts amongst this age group and found that attempts have increased, particularly for males. Around one-fifth of students reported that they had difficulty getting help for feeling bad or having a hard time in the past year.  

“Important factors are increased social media, increased loneliness, the impact of poverty, discrimination, or harmful environments, social pressures and the impact of serious worries about the future – from climate change to jobs and housing security”, says study co-lead Dr Terry Fleming.

Dr Fleming also says that just as there is no single cause, there is no single solution to improving youth mental health.  

“Young people need adults who care, acceptance and belonging, connection and fun things to do, hope for the future and help when things go wrong,” she says.

Participants in the survey were asked to identify the biggest problems currently, and what they think should change to support young people in New Zealand. Students reported that adults listening to young people, and involving them in decisions, would make a difference. They also reported that support when they had problems and addressing climate change and issues that affect their future were critical. 

Associate Professor Terryann Clark from the University of Auckland, co-lead on the study, says that a sense of hope for the future is really important for young people. 

“We have to be visionary and brave and make some big system changes if we want to address equity and make a difference for all of our rangatahi and future generations,” she says.

You can view the reports and related discussions at www.youth19.ac.nz. If you have concerns about an individual’s health or safety, please seek professional guidance or contact one of the below resources:

Helplines

Lifeline 0800 543 354

Youthline 0800 376 633

Kidsline 0800 543 754 (weekdays 4-6 pm)

What’s Up 0800 942 8787 (noon to midnight 7 days, for young people aged 5 to 18)

Depression Helpline 0800 111 757

Samaritans 0800 826 666 (lower North Island and Upper South Island)

Healthline 0800 611 116

Websites

The Lowdown (for young people) www.thelowdown.org.nz or freetext 5626

The Depression website www.depression.org.nz  which provides information about depression and an online depression self-management programme ‘The Journal’ presented by John Kirwan, which is backed up by online and phone base personalised support services.

Samaritans www.samaritans.org.nz

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