The Government has announced a $10.49 million mental health pilot offering free counselling to 18- to 25-year-olds will start in December.

It comes as part of the Greens' pre-election pledge to fund free counselling for anyone under 25.

Associate Health Minister Julie Anne Genter said, while Labour had a plan to roll out better support for under 18s through school nurses, this initiative focused on targeting those who had left school and were still at risk.

The funding for the programme was provided in the 2018 Budget. Today, a tender opened for all mental health providers to make a proposal that would decide who and where this pilot should be run.


"The healthcare provider that wins the tender will be responsible for working closely with the Ministry of Health and local healthcare providers, whether that's the district health board or primary health organisation."

She said the Ministry of Health would be monitoring the progress.

Genter said the programme was likely to operate in a contained geographic area and would be looking to target the most at-risk communities.

"Eventually a much larger programme will become nationwide for all 18- to 25-year-olds but this is the first step in developing the model and compiling the evidence from a New Zealand perspective," Genter said.

In New Zealand around 75 per cent of all lifelong cases of mental illness started before people turned 25.

Genter said New Zealand's mental health services had been in crisis for a long time and the public health system had not provided early intervention - "particularly for that age group who have left home".

"Those young people don't have the money to pay for a private psychologist and the public health system doesn't respond until things have gotten very serious and critical.

"When someone is willing to hurt themselves that's when they get intervention so what this programme is aiming to do is to ensure that support is there earlier."


She said the Government had been looking at a UK model that showed high success rates through early intervention and support for young people by providing free counselling.

"It showed that by being able to access that early intervention and support, people were able to get better and tragedies were avoided."

Putting it out to tender was about looking at how best to roll out a similar programme in New Zealand.

"We do have a higher youth suicide rate and a different health system, and particular high need communities like Māori and Pacific [peoples] that will be different to the high needs communities in the UK."

In 2016, 4940 20-year-olds sought appointments, but a third of them had to wait longer than three weeks after being referred to a mental health specialist.

Genter has said suicide was preventable, not inevitable.

"We have to break the assumption that there's nothing we can do.

"Government has a very important role to play in protecting and empowering families and communities, so that they don't have to suffer this type of loss."

This comes after figures, released to the Herald under the Official Information Act, showed at least 11 university students had died by suspected suicide in New Zealand since 2015.

Another study based on the same time period also showed 56 per cent of New Zealand tertiary students considered dropping out because of stress, anxiety and depression.

It prompted the New Zealand Union of Students' Associations, which commissioned the Kei Te Pai Report, to claim tertiary students are failing to reach their potential because of the mental health crisis.

The tender will close on August 17.

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:

LIFELINE: 0800 543 354
NEED TO TALK? Call or text 1737
SAMARITANS: 0800 726 666
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 or text 234