I would like to respond to Madison Wood's opinion (NZ Herald, August 9) about the cause of New Zealand teens' increasing mental health issues.
Our youth are presenting to our school guidance counsellors with increasingly complex and severe mental health issues, and they are presenting at an increasingly early age.
It is not uncommon now to see primary school students who need significant mental health support. However, I and the New Zealand Association of Counsellors (NZAC) take issue with the comment made by a student Madison spoke with who said that "school counsellors usually have no professional qualifications, unlike clinical psychologists".
It is untrue, and even dangerous, to suggest school guidance counsellors have no professional qualifications.
They must have a minimum of a Bachelor's degree in counselling and, in fact, most school guidance counsellors have qualified with a postgraduate diploma or Master's degree. Many counsellors are previously qualified and have practised as teachers.
Counsellors are also required to have regular professional supervision with a supervisor who is a member of an appropriate professional association such as NZAC, bound by a Code of Ethics and subject to a complaint's procedure.
And all of our NZAC counsellors, of whom 300 are school guidance counsellors, provide highly qualified, effective and professional services that actively address and find solutions to emotional wellness issues.
I hope this student's views about "unqualified" school guidance counsellors who "don't give good advice" doesn't dissuade other young people and students from seeking help from trusted professionals.
School guidance counsellors' roles are demanding and complex, but they draw on a wide range of skills and depth of knowledge to support students in finding effective solutions.
Schools also take the mental wellbeing of their students very seriously through their health curriculum, pastoral care, and increasingly through the development of student wellbeing frameworks.
For years, NZAC has been advocating the Government to appropriately resource school guidance counsellors in schools across the country, because we know that students mostly seek support from an adult outside of their whānau.
In 2019, NZAC partnered with the Ministry of Education to conduct the country's first study into the effectiveness of school guidance counselling.
Involving 30 counsellors in a nationwide sample of 16 schools, data was collected from 490 completed counselling cases. It found that – taken as a whole – students who received counselling changed positively and significantly over time.
Researchers also found that much more could be accomplished by school counsellors if a more favourable staffing ratio was employed.
But none of this answers Madison's original question of what do people think is the main cause of teenage depression?
That same 2019 study found students were presenting with over 30 types of problems (from straightforward to complicated, from physical to psychological, from self-focused to relationships-focused).
They included self-destructive behaviours such as suicide attempts and substance abuse; relationship problems with families and friends; classroom and learning problems; career issues and psychological problems such as phobias, anxiety and depression.
That is why NZAC also continues to advocate for a school guidance counsellor to student ratio of 1:400, to help support students trying to deal with these issues.
Now that may seem high but that is much lower than the current situation many schools find themselves in at the moment (on average, 1:668) – the American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of 1:250.
You might hope that the family is a child's first port of call when asking for help, but unfortunately that often isn't the case. The study also showed students sought support from school guidance counsellors more than anybody else.
That's why school guidance counsellors are important for a youth's wellbeing – we can offer a safe and secure space where youth can speak openly.
We can help set their minds at rest, and to help them find a way through it all.
• Christine Macfarlane is the president of New Zealand Association of Counsellors.
Where to get help:
If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call 111.
If you need to talk to someone, the following free helplines operate 24/7:
DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757
LIFELINE: 0800 543 354
SAMARITANS: 0800 726 666
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 or text 234
NEED TO TALK? Call or text 1737