Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

Millions for kids' mental health study

Briscoes chief Rod Duke helps Cure Kids search for ‘chair’ to delve into child and teenage disorders.

Hannah Blow with  9-year-old daughter Alana, who struggles with ADHD. Photo / Dean Purcell
Hannah Blow with 9-year-old daughter Alana, who struggles with ADHD. Photo / Dean Purcell

An international search has begun for a researcher to delve into child and teenage mental health after Cure Kids received a multi-million-dollar private donation.

The All Blacks will today front the launch of a dedicated senior research position - known as a chair - which aims to be a game-changer in the understanding of young people's mental health.

Cure Kids chief executive Vicki Lee said it was estimated that at least one in four Kiwi children and adolescents would experience a significant mental health issue.

These psychological, emotional or behavioural conditions had a huge impact on their day-to-day life and that of their family.

"We know the size of the problem and we know there is a significant lack of dedicated research both in New Zealand and around the world.

"The critical role that research plays in providing answers is accepted. All that's been holding this area back is lack of funding."

That problem has been partly addressed by a multi-million-dollar donation by Rod Duke and his family. The Briscoes managing director has long backed Cure Kids both through his business and privately.

The latest support will fund a chair to investigate causes, and develop treatments and prevention strategies for conditions that may include anxiety, depression, autistic spectrum disorders, attention deficit disorder and eating disorders.

Cure Kids has invested $36 million in child health research in New Zealand to date, and the new chair will be its fourth academic chair (the last was established 12 years ago).

The research model has had spectacular success. Three specialist researchers in the areas of paediatric genetics, epidemiology and neonatology have had breakthroughs of major international significance.

The Cure Kids Duke Family Chair in Child and Adolescent Mental Health will be attached to the University of Auckland, which will conduct an international search for the chair, although Ms Lee said it was intended that the successful candidate would be a New Zealander.

Dr Sally Merry, an associate professor in child and adolescent psychiatry, said the announcement was hugely exciting. "We have the potential to do excellent work here and be world leaders in this."

Isolated by illness

An early sign of Alana Blow's attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) was when kindergarten teachers noticed she couldn't sit still.

At school her family noticed she was falling behind academically, so put her on Ritalin for the school day, which helped significantly.

"Some days you wouldn't really know, she seems quite settled, and then other days are not so great. She just seems to be easily distracted," said mother Hannah Blow.

Mrs Blow said the new research into child and teenage mental health by Cure Kids was sorely needed.

"There is a lack of availability of help for families, and it can be quite isolating when you have a young person who is unwell like that."

The Pakuranga family have had a long association with Cure Kids, as Alana and her three siblings all live with life-threatening illnesses. Alana also has Marfan syndrome, a genetic connective tissue disorder.

Duke: Why I donated

The immense sadness of New Zealand's child and teenage suicide rate spurred a multi-million-dollar donation to Cure Kids.

Briscoes managing director Rod Duke said he and his family gave the money on the condition that it be used to help research child and adolescent mental health.

Mr Duke, 60, and his wife Patricia have a 17-year-old son, but he said thankfully the donation was not spurred by any personal experience of the issues it will help address.

"It's just so heartbreaking when you pick up Sunday morning's newspaper and you read about these horrible things that parents have got to go through," Mr Duke said.

The family had wanted to initiate a project around young people's wellbeing, and thought something that looked not just at suicide but the full range of mental health issues was needed.

The numbers

• At least one in four children and adolescents experience a mental health issue.
• More than 50 per cent of all lifetime mental illnesses occur before the age of 14 years.
• Conditions affecting children may include anxiety, depression, ADHD, autism, eating disorders.
Source: Cure Kids.

- NZ Herald

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