Mental health referrals are on the rise in Rotorua and the Mental Health Foundation says today's youth are facing challenges like no other generation in history.

Figures from the Lakes District Health Board show referrals increased among all age groups between 2013 and 2016.

Overall referrals increased 15 per cent to 7856 from the 2013/2014 financial year to the 2015/2016 financial year.

There was a 26 per cent increase in referrals among those under 20.

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Lakes District Health Board chief executive Ron Dunham said it could be considered a positive that more people were being referred to mental health and addictions services.

"This permits our health professional team to make comprehensive assessments of their health and well-being."

He said improved health literacy and health promotion around mental health would have contributed to the rise in referrals.

DHB figures showed funding increased from $29.2 million to $30.9 million from 2013 to 2016. However, staffing levels at June 2016 were the same as at June 2013.

Mr Dunham said not every referral to the DHB's services led to complex, lengthy treatement. Many clients were appropriately referred to other health providers, including general practices or other specialist agencies.

He said the DHB was reviewing its community mental health services within the Rotorua District. That would likely lead to better, and more timely, access to clinical care.

The DHB was satisfied its funding catered for its population needs around mental health and addiction, said Mr Dunham.

The DHB figures showed those under 16 referred for mental health care in Rotorua last financial year were most likely to suffer from depressive disorders, neuro-cognitive disorders and adjustment disorders.

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 past 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, 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.

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