Young Northlanders are sometimes waiting weeks - or months - for mental health care during delays one MP calls "intolerable".
But the Northland District Health Board says appointments take time to organise and it has initiatives in place to improve wait times.
In the year to March, 23.1 per cent of those aged 19 and under seeking mental health help in the Northland DHB area waited more than three weeks to see a provider, according to the Ministry of Health.
Figures showed 17.7 per cent waited between three and eight weeks and 5.4 per cent more than eight weeks. Northland DHB general manager mental health and addiction services, Ian McKenzie, said clients were offered two or three alternative appointments and given the option to be seen in clinic, at home or wherever they felt most comfortable. He said the appointments were usually agreed to within the first two weeks of a referral being received.
"When we don't see client families within three weeks, this is usually because the family call back to cancel the initial appointment and then a new appointment is offered. Sometimes that new date means the three-week period is exceeded."
He said some families didn't attend their first offered appointments and were contacted again to organise another appointment time.
Mr McKenzie said it was gratifying to know the DHB was performing better than the national average of 30 per cent of young people waiting more than three weeks to see a provider, given the district's large geographical area and small, dispersed communities. However, the DHB acknowledged it could always do better.
He said Northland DHB's child and adolescent mental health service, Te Roopu Kimiora, was addressing the increasing number of referrals, year on year. The DHB was trialling a dedicated triage and duty team it hoped would bring more consistency to its responses to referrals.
It was also pointing families towards services in the community which might be better placed to support them. It had recently recruited an occupational therapist who was developing innovative groups, including an anxiety group, which young people could be referred to.
Green Party health spokesman Kevin Hague said more people in the community needed mental health support. For young people, that need was often urgent.
"If you think about the situation of a young person who needs assistance ... waiting three weeks is intolerable, let alone the eight weeks that some people have." Mr Hague, who is a former DHB chief executive, said a young person waiting weeks or months for help would experience worsening mental health problems. "So we're looking at self-harm, we're looking at depression, we're looking at kind of starting to fail in school and I guess at the worst end of things it may be suicide that we're talking about."
If a young person didn't receive the health services they needed to thrive, it could also have lifelong consequences.
"By not meeting their needs now we are ensuring that we will have bigger problems for them to deal with and for our services to have to try and deal with later on their lives."
Mr Hague said he wanted an urgent increase in mental health funding, a reinstatement of the Mental Health Commission and an urgent nationwide inquiry into mental health services.
Where to get help:
• 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 email@example.com or live chat (between 7pm and 11pm) http://livechat.youthline.co.nz/mibew/chat?locale=en&style=youthline
• 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