Teenagers feel isolated and unsupported
May 17, 2019
Despite government efforts to provide young adults in Wellington with free mental health care, a lack of services and support is leaving teenagers feeling isolated and unsupported.
Last week, the Ministry of Health announced it would be expanding a pilot programme providing free mental health care to people between the ages of 18 and 25 years, throughout greater Wellington and into tertiary institutes.
The programme, Piki, was launched in Porirua, in March 2019, providing 600 young people with free mental health services.
The announcement of the expansion of the programme followed hundreds of protestors marching to Parliament to raise awareness of the prevalence of teenage suicide. New Zealand has the highest youth suicide rate in the developed world.
The march’s organiser, Pania Te-Paiho Marsh, said on Facebook that while expanding Piki was a great start, mental health services for younger people were still lacking.
Youth worker Hayley Rosser said the majority of New Zealand’s mental health services were for those in crisis. The only support available was for those who were either actively suicidal or had already attempted and were in a critical state.
“They [Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services] will not come unless an attempt has been made,” she said. “There isn’t a lot of support for people, or young people who aren’t there yet.
“There’s not enough room for kids to be listened to or just given opportunities for support,” said Rosser.
There was not enough funding or resources available to provide help for everyone that needed it. “There’s an army of people out there who need our support and there’s only a few of us.
“It comes down to the government actually putting in the mahi [work] and giving us the resources we need,” she said.
One high school student, who did not want to be named, said when she sought counselling from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, she was made to undergo testing to determine whether she was “depressed enough” to help.
“They couldn’t give me one [a counsellor], because I wasn’t suicidal,” she said. “There’s nowhere you can go.”
She said when a close friend attempted suicide she had no idea who to contact. She called the Wellington Free Ambulance, but was worried that they would not be able to respond in time.
St Johns operational intensive care paramedic, Mark Quin said emergency services were often contacted by the families of those struggling with mental health issues because mental health services often lacked follow up, and had long delays in referrals for counselling and other ongoing management.
He said patients in the mental health system were left feeling “vulnerable and unsupported”, and their families “frustrated and isolated”, because they were unable to access help.
“On every shift we see patients who are either thinking about self-harm or suicide, have attempted suicide or have died as outcome of their first attempt or after multiple previous attempts. In most, if not all, cases, there are elements of poor management by a mental health system unwilling to change their processes to meet the needs of the individual.”
At a roll-out event held at Victoria University last week, Health Minister David Clark said Piki would cater to young people, who may not have been able to access or afford mental health care, or whose needs were not met or recognised by the existing mental health system.
Associate Health Minister, Julie Anne Genter said Piki would aim to help 10,000 young people with mild to moderate mental health symptoms, across the greater Wellington region.
She said she particularly wanted to emphasise Piki’s focus on delivering “culturally-relevant” age-appropriate support.
Many of these support services were digital, such as 1737, a phone/text counselling service and Melon Health, a wellness app connecting users with counsellors and others who may be experiencing similar issues.
Massey University Wellington Students’ Association president, Jamie-Lee Bracken said for these resources to be effective there needed to be student engagement about how to access them.
Bracken said she was concerned students may not know how to use, or where to find these services, and ensuring the programme actually helped, involved more than “putting up a poster and ticking a box”.