Advisory: This article mentions suspected suicide and may be distressing to some readers.
Bay of Plenty principals want the Government to pay for intermediate schools counsellors.
One says the service is needed to address the "staggering and incredibly worrying" level of mental health needs of students.
But the Government says work on a mental health and wellbeing programme for 5- to 12-year-olds in the Bay of Plenty and Lakes districts has started.
A final report with results from the co-design process for The Mana Ake – Stronger for Tomorrow programme is expected early next year.
Under the programme, workers support schools and whānau when children experience wellbeing issues such as bullying, parental separation, grief and loss.
Mount Maunganui Intermediate school lost student Blake Dalley to suspected suicide in December.
Mount Maunganui Intermediate principal Melissa Nelson said the death was a "tragedy" that hit the school community "hard".
She said Blake's death proved the need for Government-funded counselling at intermediates.
The school was able to access $18,000 of emergency funding through the Ministry of Education after Blake's death, employing two part time counsellors.
It continued to fund the positions from its operational funding.
But this money would not be available next year.
The counsellors were working with about 50 students. Another 30 students had previously been working with the counsellors, and 14 were on the waitlist.
"Being able to refer a struggling young person to an expert on site has been a huge help to us and to their families."
Nelson said the number of students presenting mental health issues weekly was "staggering and incredibly worrying".
"Secondary schools do have a staffing allocation for counselling staff, which tells me that the Government thinks that 12 to 13-year-olds do not have the problems or need the same level of support that secondary students require.
"My staff have had to deal with a worrying number of young people with serious mental health worries."
This had put "immense" pressure on staff and taken a toll on "already hard-working" teachers.
She expected her school was not the only intermediate experiencing "such frustration" at the lack of resources to address mental health among students.
"I am hopeful that funding models will change and that our Government will prioritise mental health and wellbeing, through equitable funding, at all levels of education."
A fundraising event had been organised to raise money to continue the school's counselling service next year.
Western Bay of Plenty Principals Association president Suzanne Billington said there was a "huge lack of resourcing" in supporting primary students.
But she believe a "linked-up, culturally responsive service" was needed for students across all year levels who required wellbeing support.
A shortage of counsellors, psychologists, social workers and other wellbeing staff in primary schools meant school leaders were working "extremely hard" to support students and their families.
"These staff do worry about the young people in their care. There are huge efforts put into trying through many different avenues to get support for students," she said.
"Hours of work go into this and the lack of resourcing means much frustration for schools and parents when no support is available."
"What is most worrying is that those students who need support are not receiving this from specialists."
She expected the new mental health service Mana Ake would be "contextually and culturally" appropriate for young people in the region.
Tauranga Intermediate's board pays for two fulltime counsellors for its 1298 students.
Principal Cameron Mitchell said "ideally" they would have three counsellors working fulltime given the school's roll size.
They worked to help those experiencing dysfunction at home, self-image issues and other common pressures faced by intermediate-age students.
There was "a sense of feeling that we are doing our best to cater for these very real needs".
"It is a rapidly changing time of peoples lives," he said.
Counsellors tended to work with students one-on-one, with family members sometimes involved.
But like Nelson, Mitchell said both primary and intermediate schools needed staffing allocation for counsellors.
Te Puke Intermediate principal Jill Weldon said a fulltime counsellor and social worker at school would enable educators to "focus on teaching".
The school currently had a part-time social worker who had "way more" students on her client list than she was contracted to support.
She was actively working with 20 students.
Social Workers in Schools is a primary and intermediate-school based community social work service funded by the Ministry of Social Development.
While this made a difference, she said there said was still "huge pressure" on staff to support students with "a variety" of needs other than teaching.
"Not just weekly but every day, staff are supporting students with mental health-related needs."
Social issues, care and protection-related issues, self-harm, anxiety and depression, suicidal thoughts and friend-related issues were some of the problems the social worker addressed.
She said this included setting up counselling and medical appointments for students and whānau and running programmes around building confidence, anger management and hygiene for youth.
Mental wellbeing, lack of resilience and low mood were contributing factors to a "significant" number of students refusing to attend school.
Weldon also felt social media and gaming were "massive contributors to the mood of many at school.
Ōtūmoetai Intermediate principal Henk Popping said the school took a "holistic" approach when it came to students' mental health.
Anxiety, suicidal ideation, self-image issues and reluctance to come to school were just some of the matters that intermediate students were experiencing.
They tried to shape support to cater to these types of issues, he said,
"When it comes to students at this age group, there is always going to be a whole variety of needs."
The school utilised a "number of avenues" to help students facing mental health issues - including an in-school student support teacher.
Unlike other Tauranga schools, he felt Ōtūmoetai Intermediate was not feeling the strain when trying to provide this support.
He put this down to a wellbeing partnership between Ōtūmoetai's Kāhui Ako and the BOPDHB which was "working well".
Ōtūmoetai's Kāhui Ako - which included other early childhood centres and schools - had access to two mental health clinicians based at Pillans Point School.
Popping said 10 students had been referred to the clinicians this year. Others received in school help from a student support teacher, who was currently caring for 49 individuals on an ongoing basis.
Bay of Plenty child psychotherapist Joanne Bruce said it was important family members were involved in the therapeutic process and a "24/7 approach" was taken to help solve mental health issues, she said.
Ministry of Education operations and integration leader Sean Teddy said schools were "free to use" their operations grants to best meet student needs, including employing counsellors.
Progress had also been made on the extension of Mana Ake in the Bay of Plenty - with a co-design process being led by local DHBs in partnership with schools and iwi.
A Ministry of Health spokesperson said it was aiming to tailor the programme design to the specific needs of the local schools.
Decisions regarding the future rollout and funding would be made once the co-design report had been presented and considered, the spokesperson said.
In April it was announced Mana Ake would expand to five new DHB areas - including Bay of Plenty and Lakes.
An event has been organised to help raise funds for a Mount Maunganui Intermediate counselling service in 2022. The masquerade casino event will be held at Classic Flyers on March 11.
WHERE TO GET HELP
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youth services: (06) 3555 906
• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• 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
• Helpline: 1737
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111