Critics claim youth mental health system is reaching breaking point.

Youth mental health services are hitting breaking point with desperate parents reporting children have to be suicidal or self-harming just to get help.

New figures show nearly 50 per cent of children up to the age of 11 referred for a specialist mental health appointment last year had to wait more than three weeks.

Almost 800 had to wait longer than eight weeks.

The Weekend Herald has spoken to five parents who feel their children have been denied by what they say is a broken system.


One 6-year-old boy rejected by the system disclosed to a counsellor in the private sector that he had plans to take his own life.

Another 12-year-old boy told his mother he wanted to die because "life would be easier if I wasn't here."

His mother, Tracey Rountree of Pakuranga, said: "To get any help you need to have your child harm themselves or harm other children.

"When he says things like 'I don't want to be here anymore' that's when you feel helpless and don't know what to do," Rountree said.

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Ministry of Health deputy director of mental health Ian Soosay disagreed, saying the perception that children needed to be suicidal to access Child Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) was "not factually correct."

CAMHS teams work with more than 47,000 children each year, Soosay said, and those who were suicidal or self-harming should be seen within 24 to 48 hours.

"Generally, New Zealand has good provision of mental health services, but there is always more work which can be done," Soosay said.


However, documents obtained under the Official Information Act show the "significant demand pressures" facing CAMHS were flagged to Health Minister Jonathan Coleman as early as March last year.

The sector has limited scope to respond to growing demands, read the March 2016 report on the state of the sector, which was obtained by the Green Party and provided to the Weekend Herald.

The report highlighted how in the six years leading up to the 2014/15 financial year, the number of youth under the age of 19 accessing specialist mental health services had climbed from about 28,000 to 44,000.

In this same time period, the amount of public money spent on youth mental health increased from $130m to $161m.

In the past week the ministry has come under fire from two independent advocacy groups calling for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the state of youth mental health services in New Zealand.

Green Party health spokeswoman Julie-Anne Genter has also been seeking an urgent nationwide inquiry into mental health services, claiming the system is "broken and stretched to the limit."

On Wednesday Coleman released a draft suicide prevention strategy for public consultation, highlighting his concerns over youth suicide rates.

Coleman's announcement has been warmly received by the Parents of Children with Additional Needs Collective (POCAN), which recently surveyed 100 parents who had accessed CAMHS and found half believed their child was at risk of suicide before being accepted by the service.

More concerningly, 94 per cent of these parents said they believed their child was still suicidal after CAMHS intervention.

The majority of parents said CAMHS did not assess their child's risk of suicide and some said they were turned away and advised to go through a parenting course.

One simply wrote: "Denied us help" on the questionnaire.

"If we want to see a reduction in youth suicide, we have to be looking at the quality of our services to our most vulnerable children," said Rountree, a spokeswoman for POCAN.

Her son has twice been discharged from CAMHS "because they didn't feel like they could help him," she said. He has been stood down from school three times for physical altercations, including hitting other students and throwing wood and rocks.

He's been running away from home since the age of 4 and was almost hit by a car when he escaped from school in Year 5.

When she first called CAMHS for support, she was told her son would only be referred on to specialist mental health services if he was "in the top 2 per cent of extreme behaviour."

"So they were saying he had to be the naughtiest of the naughty to get help," Rountree said. Then he started talking about wanting to die.

Another mother, who spoke to the Weekend Herald on the condition of anonymity, said her 6-year-old son's suicidal ideas were not taken seriously by CAMHS. She decided to pay $450 for an appointment in the private sector only to be told her son was at high risk of suicide.

"Maybe if we hadn't gone private, something terrible might have happened," she said.

A mum identified only as Grace, who has an 11-year-old son using CAMHS, said she has been "pushing and pushing and pushing" for help through the system in the past six years.

"Not being listened to has been huge," said Grace, who did not want to disclose her surname through fears of this story haunting her son in the future.

At the beginning of last year, Grace said she asked ministry officials for her son to be allowed to do correspondence learning from home because he had been stood down from school for behaviour problems several times. She said this proposal was only given the green light in December, after her son had come up with a plan to take his own life.

"When it comes down to an 11-year-old talking about wanting to die and running into walls and threatening to kill himself, then enough is enough," Grace said.

"How bad does it have to get? Do we have to have an attempt to get some action?"

Where to get help:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (Mon-Fri 1pm to 10pm. Sat-Sun 3pm-10pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
Samaritans 0800 726 666
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.