Tackling youth mental health in schools

  • Hekia Parata

Secondary schools will be better equipped to identify and deal with students who have mental health problems under the National-led Government’s youth mental health package, Education Minister Hekia Parata says.

The package, announced today by Prime Minister John Key, will put more nurses and youth workers into schools and make changes so that young people learn in a safe and supportive environment.

“Schools have an important part to play in the well-being of their students, and we want to give them the resources to tackle these issues earlier,” Ms Parata says.

“In return, we want schools to take more responsibility for the wellbeing of their students.”

As part of the Prime Minister’s Youth Mental Health package, nurses will be put into decile three secondary schools to undertake youth development checks and make referrals where necessary. Nurses are already in decile one and two schools under the School-based Health Services initiative.

Specially trained youth workers will work alongside nurses in selected low decile secondary schools to further strengthen support for young people in need. They will also trial a new programme called Check & Connect, which targets young people who have disengaged, or are at risk of disengaging, from school.

“Schools have a responsibility to provide supportive learning environments for their students,” Ms Parata says.

“To help them do this, we’ll be investing $12 million over four years to expand the Positive Behaviour School Wide programme across all secondary schools. It encourages a culture of responsibility and addresses problems like bullying.

“We’ll also be asking the Education Review Office to measure student wellbeing as part of its regular reviews of schools. We expect schools to be able to demonstrate what steps they are taking to improve student wellbeing, and to show improvement over time.”

The Government will also pilot the FRIENDS For Life programme in 10 secondary schools. It aims to build students’ self-esteem and resilience in order to help them cope with depression and anxiety – key risk factors for suicide.

If the pilot is successful the Ministry of Education will promote the use of this programme in all secondary schools.

In addition, the Education Review Office will review the school guidance system to ensure guidance counsellors are providing good support to young people with mental health issues.

Lastly, the Government will review alcohol and drug education programmes which target young people to ensure that they are safe and effective.

“These initiatives are part of a well-balanced package that will provide significantly better, earlier and more modern help for young people suffering from mental illness,” Ms Parata says.

The total contribution to the Prime Minister’s Youth Mental Health package from Vote Education is $16 million over four years.