New funding for youth mental health services has been welcomed in Northland, but service providers want to make sure the money is used effectively.
Mental health and addiction services targeted at Northland youth are set to receive a boost following announcements last week from Health Minister Andrew Little.
"As a nation, we're starting to understand that it is okay when you don't feel okay," Little told those gathered at Whangārei Youth Space last Friday afternoon.
Little was joined by representatives from the Northland District Health Board, Mahi Tahi Hauora and other organisations working in the mental health and addiction spaces in Te Tai Tokerau. It was announced that Northland DHB, along with Waitematā and Auckland DHBs would receive $4.6 million over the next two years, or just over $750,000 each per year to go towards supporting mental health and addiction services.
"The reason for this is pretty obvious. As a government, we saw a few years ago through a review of our mental health sector that there were some major challenges, some major problems with our health services," Little told those in attendance.
"One of the main gaps was for people who were feeling anxious or a little bit depressed and couldn't justify going to a mental health unit but still needed somewhere to go. They needed a safe space just to be and talk about what was causing their challenges."
Despite ongoing work by many organisations, Northland has had bad mental health and addiction statistics for a number of years. From 2007 to 2020, a total of 342 Northlanders took their own lives. The problems have been exacerbated by the rise of harmful drugs, alongside worsening socioeconomic statistics.
Whilst hopeful about what the announcement means for the future of youth of Te Tai Tokerau, Northland DHB chief executive Dr Nick Chamberlain acknowledged the region had work to do. He also stressed the fact the responsibility for the wellbeing of youth extended beyond just the health sector.
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"In 2012, we had 19 youth suicides, with the youngest being just 10 years old. The one major commonality was the loss of hope. This initiative and the work being done brings back so much hope ... It's not about hauora, it's about oranga," said Chamberlain.
Northland's Primary Health Organisation, Mahi Tahi Hauora, is responsible for securing the funding, successfully responded to the request for proposal from the Ministry of Health, effectively making them the contract-holder responsible for the disbursement of the funds. Representatives from Mahi Tahi Hauora said the funds will primarily be used to employ more skilled youth workers in the region, as well as consolidating existing services to be more effective.
"Young people said they would really love to see other youth workers in the community that they could connect with and get the navigation support that they needed ... This piece of funding is all about engaging and recruiting other youth workers with specialist skills to help support young people who are experiencing challenges," nurse director at Mahi Tahi Hauora Hemaima Reihana-Tait said.
"It's putting the power into the communities and the ability to be able to find their own solutions," said Mahi Tahi Hauora chief executive officer Jensen Webber.
Whilst the announcement was welcomed by those in attendance, Reihana-Tait said the focus must now shift to making sure the money is used effectively and ensuring there was cohesion among service providers throughout the region.
"The biggest challenges are around supporting all of the services to work as one team," said Reihana-Tait.
Little said the funding was a good start, but more was still needed.