Kim Fulton is a NZME. News Service regional reporter

'Unprecedented levels of stress' drive 4000 Bay youth to seek mental health help in year

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Demand on youth and adult mental health services has grown by 70 per cent nationally in the last 10 years.
Demand on youth and adult mental health services has grown by 70 per cent nationally in the last 10 years.

More than 4000 young people have been referred to mental health services in the Bay of Plenty in the past year and the Mental Health Foundation says today's youth face challenges like no generation in history.

Bay of Plenty District Health Board figures show 19,047 people were referred to mental health services last financial year, including 4011 under the age of 19.

Overall referrals were down slightly on the previous year but up by more than 2000 on the 2013 to 2014 financial year.

The figures include referrals to the DHB's mental health services as well as to Non-Government Organisations (NGOs), Kaupapa providers and specialist secondary care services contracted to provide mental health and addiction services.

Bay of Plenty District Health Board business leader - mental health and addiction services, Eileen Hughes, said referrals to mental health services for young people across the globe were increasing significantly every year.

"In this day and age, some experts believe that young people are considered to be more vulnerable to develop depression, anxiety and self-harm.

"The influence of social media, cyber bullying and pressure to perform academically are considered a major factor impacting on young people's state of mental health.

"The breakdown of families, the ease of access to drugs and alcohol, the focus on achievement rather than wellbeing all negatively impacts on our youth."

Ms Hughes said New Zealand has also had a significant increase in mental health referrals among young people, with some services reporting a yearly increase of about 20 per cent of referrals.

"We cannot underestimate the power of awareness and communities are now much more aware of mental health symptoms, early warning signs and services available to communities - resulting in an increase in referrals."

Bay of Plenty DHB figures showed its funding for mental health services increased from $61,247,304 in the 2013 to 2014 financial year to $64,588,576 last financial year.

Average full-time equivalent mental health and addiction staff numbers increased from 454 to 465 across NGO and secondary services over the same period.

Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson said the Ministry of Health had confirmed demand on youth and adult mental health services had grown by 70 per cent in the last 10 years.

"We can only speculate as to what is causing the increase - some research in this area is needed."

Part of the increase could probably be due to the work done in encouraging people to ask for help when they were experiencing mental health problems, he said.

"However, research has demonstrated that our young people are experiencing unprecedented levels of stress, and this is resulting in increased levels of depression, anxiety, behavioural problems, and lowered self-esteem and confidence.

"They are facing huge challenges that no generation in history has had to overcome. The economic and social environment they are growing up in is changing rapidly."

Mr Robinson said young people were also being constantly bombarded by a relentless stream of negative information from online and traditional media which suggested the world was unsafe and uncertain.

"It's a stressful time for all of us, but especially young people who are simultaneously facing the age-old struggles of how to find their place in the world."

Additionally, too many young people were facing issues such as child poverty, sexual abuse, domestic violence and the pressures brought on by the housing crisis.

"Combined, these factors place young people at heightened risk for mental illness."

Mr Robinson said the foundation had always advocated for mental health services funding to increase in line with population growth.

"We need to consider not just the amount of funding but how it is being used. It seems timely to ask whether we're doing enough to decrease the prevalence of mental health problems by improving the wellbeing of our young people and increasing their capacity to overcome difficult times."

Mr Robinson said the Mental Health Foundation promoted the Five Ways to Wellbeing - connect, keep learning, take notice, give and be active.

"By practising the five ways, we're better equipped to cope with the ups and downs that are a natural part of life, but can, when we don't have the right skills and strategies to help us face them, lead to mental illness or distress," he said.

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Where to get help
In an emergency: call 111
Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633, or text 234 (available 24/7) or talk@youthline.co.nz or live chat (between 7pm and 11pm)
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155 (weekdays 11am to 5pm)
NetSafe: 0508 NETSAFE (0508 638 723), www.theorb.org.nz

- Bay of Plenty Times

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