The teenage years. An absolute turmoil of physical, mental and emotional changes as well as dealing with your peers going through the same changes. On top of all that are the added pressures of family life, relationships, school, social media, and identity. It is no surprise that principals in the Bay of Plenty are seeing a rapid rise in student mental health issues. But as Cira Olivier reports, many are not getting the expert help and support they need.
Long wait lists and criteria thresholds are stopping some students from getting expert mental health help, according to local principals who say the number of struggling teens has risen exponentially.
But District Health Boards have said a difference in opinion on the level of need paired with a high demand on services meant some students were not seen to.
The National Survey of Secondary Schools 2018 found just under two-thirds of principals said their school could not access expert support for working with students with mental health issues .
The survey, conducted by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER), began in 2003 and is done every three years.
It found 62 per cent of high school principals said they could not readily access expertise to support students with mental health issues, a sharp rise from 36 per cent in 2015.
The NZCER survey was conducted in August and September and invited responses from all 314 state and state-integrated secondary schools.
Bay of Plenty principals said there had been an undoubted rise in students suffering mental health issues and some who were referred to expert services were getting turned away.
In line with the report, the schools had in-school wellness centres, nurses, counsellors, and other supports but external expert support proved difficult to get.
John Paul College principal Patrick Walsh said there has been an "exponential rise" in students needing mental health support.
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But students referred by the school either did not meet a certain criteria threshold or there was an extensive waiting list, he said.
"A big concern is students that are self-harming and ones our counsellors believe have suicide ideation are not being picked up quickly enough."
"From our point of view, we regard these matters as urgent ... but the response we often get is [agencies] are under huge pressure themselves in terms of workload," Walsh said.
This also put pressure on staff and parents.
"We don't know what to tell [parents] to do," Walsh said.
He said it was not a criticism of the agencies, rather he believed the Government needed to provide more resources to the agencies helping youth.
Rotorua Girls' High School's Wellness Centre manager, Shirley Ticklepenny, said the school's counselling services had been accessed 183 times last term.
The mild to moderate cases common throughout the school were anxiety, depression, family and friendship conflicts, and school-related stress. More severe cases were self-harm and suicidal ideation.
Ticklepenny said the Rotorua Hospital crisis team was quick to respond to students who attempted self-harm and they had in-school support from a team from REAL .
"We're challenged when we need to refer a student to MICAMHS [Maternal Infant Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services]", which Tickelpenny said was shown in lack of communication and waiting times.
Girls' High principal Sarah Davis said at the high end of mental health needs, which made up a small proportion of her school, there was a lack of communication with specialists.
"If we're of the opinion a girl needs that specialist and urgent support, that's where we can sometimes run into a roadblock," she said.
"For the majority of girls who are going through issues we are very well catered but to the high end, I'm not so sure," she said.
Tauranga's Otumoetai College principal Russell Gordon said students were missing out on the best form of counselling as many were turned away despite the school's view this was the best option.
"We are all seeing an increased number of students who are suffering within the framework of mental health."
Tauranga Boys' College principal Robert Mangan said the school's head of guidance had said there had been an improvement in accessing the support of the likes of CAMHS
(Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services).
"Any additional resource that can be put into that area, the better," Mangan said.
The school had recently hired a fourth full-time counsellor but with a roll of more than 2000 and only some students externally picked up, they were now working above capacity.
Bay of Plenty District Health Board Maternal, Infant, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (BOPDHB MICAMHS) acting manager Nicola Chadwick said a difference in opinion on the level of need, paired with a high demand on services, meant some students were not seen to.
Chadwick said MICAMHS used a triage system for young people referred which helped decide the timeliness of the response.
"This means that sometimes what could be considered severe for an individual or referrer, such as a school, might be assessed clinically as mild-moderate," Chadwick said.
The range of services available to support youth mental health concerns were experiencing an ongoing high level of demand, she said.
Lakes District Health Board chief operating officer Greg Vandergoot said iCAMHS has had difficulty recruiting the long-term staff vacancies and Lakes DHB was doing "everything possible to fill these positions as soon as possible".
"As a result, the service is working hard to manage workflows and prioritise referrals."
The Ministry of Education deputy secretary sector enablement and support, Katrina Casey, said specific mental health expertise was needed to treat the risks and needs in schools.
Casey said the ministry worked with a range of agencies, including Oranga Tamariki, Child Development Services, CAMHS and DHBs to ensure students and families got the right support.
"Schools and teachers play a vital role in promoting wellbeing," she said. "However, as educators, they are not mental health experts."
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
• CASPER Suicide Prevention
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.