As New Zealand celebrates Mental Health Awareness Week, young people in Aotearoa are leading the way in celebrating the importance of mental wellbeing, of looking after each other and of staying well.
Over 2500 people are registered from schools and kura to mark the week this year – an increase of 700 compared to 2019.
Where previous generations might have swept mental health issues under the carpet, the recent Youth 19 survey highlighted young people are calling out mental health as one of the key focus areas for their generation.
“As a nation we’re getting better at understanding – and openly talking about – the importance of mental wellbeing, and our young people are leading the way,” says Robyn Shearer, Deputy-Director General, Mental Health and Addiction at the Ministry of Health.
“It’s fantastic to see and it’s a strong sign of hope for mental wellbeing in the future.
“More and more, we’re seeing students taking charge and planning wellbeing activities for their school. These activities will help build understanding and awareness that can have lifelong benefits.”
A great example is Year 13 student, Hannah Clarke from Dunedin who’s involved in a student-led wellbeing week at Columba College.
Hannah approached Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield to record a personal video message about mental wellbeing she was able to share with her school. An initiative that is now being shared with schools around the country.
In the video, Dr Bloomfield says it’s important to know that it’s ok to not be ok, to have days when you are stressed or feel anxiety and shares that he has days like that himself.
“One of the first things you can do is to know your limitations, knowing when you feel anxious and how that feels for you, because that’s the first step to being able to do something about it,” says Dr Bloomfield.
“It was pretty unreal seeing Dr Bloomfield’s message to us, we are used to seeing him up on the big screen, so seeing him cater a message on the importance of mental health was really fitting for us. I know it has really struck a chord with many in our school community,” says Hannah.
Aaron Everett, Teacher and Wellbeing Co-ordinator at Columba College says it’s been an outstanding student-led initiative.
“Students generally have a lot to tackle. They’re going through a lot of stress and anxiety with friend groups, grades and family situations outside of school and generally working out who they are, which has been exacerbated this year with COVID-19.
“We established a wellbeing committee at the beginning of the year, which has included a number of student-led initiatives, including wellbeing week, so they can learn ways to look after themselves and others and so they know where they can get help if they need it.”
Robyn Shearer agrees that young people are leading from the front.
“Having good mental wellbeing starts with each one of us understanding that there are small, daily actions that we can do to improve our mental wellbeing.
“Young people like Hannah are showing that they really understand that and are taking action that will make a difference,” says Robyn Shearer.
The Ministry of Health is rolling out a number of community-based programmes to make sure it’s supporting this shift. These are in addition to existing services that include a range of phone, text and online options including Youthline, Piki, OUTline, SPARX, Melon Health, the Aroha chatbot and The Lowdown.
“We’re working closely with the Ministry of Education to ensure there’s good wellbeing programmes within schools because we want to support young people to be able to look after themselves and avoid getting into distress.”
Providing mental health services that are specifically designed for young people is one part of increasing New Zealanders’ access to and choice of mental wellbeing support.
New and expanded services for young people were announced last week starting in Rotorua, Taupô, Wairarapa, South Canterbury, Dunedin and Southland that start from October and are just the beginning of a rollout of services around the country.