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With New Zealand at the highest level of teen suicide in the OECD, there is no question that mental health is top of mind for many New Zealanders.

“Mental health is something that affects everyone, whether it is our own struggles, or those of people we know, and it is something that can only be addressed by us all working together” says Jonathan Young MP

Statistically 47% of New Zealanders will experience a mental health issue during their lifetime and over the last decade demand for secondary mental health and addiction services has increased from 2.3% to 3.6% of the population, which equates an increase in New Zealand from 96,000 people to almost 168,000. This is similar to international trends

“With this growth in demand we have increased our services and level of funding. Mental Health funding was $1.1 Billion in 2008/2009 and has increased to $1.4 Billion in 2015/2016” says Young. Added to this is the recent announcement of an additional $224 Million over the next four years, which includes $124 Million for new innovative approaches,” says Young.

“Our suicide statistics have not significantly decreased which is why we have to be more pro-active and address this issue more intently. The biggest group at risk of suicide are our young people, in particular Maori and Pacifica young men.”

60% of suicides have no contact with mental health services in the previous 12 months, so this is where we as a community need to be aware of the signs that people are struggling. No one openly advertises their struggles and by the time others become aware of them, a person can be well down the path, and sadly, many miss the signs altogether. What it takes is people noticing the small signs in everyday life, in places of work and through friends and family as much as possible. It is about identifying issues and having earlier interventions.” Says Young

Locally our Taranaki District Health Board has increased their investment into Mental Health services from $25.3million in 2007/2008 to $31.7million in 2015/2016. This resourcing is positive. The Government recently announced a further investment of $100 Million into all of our DHB’s recognising the need to expand services.

 “Here in Taranaki particularly for our young people we need to ensure they can see they have a hope and future and that we as our community continue to be strongly supportive of them.

“This is one of the reasons why I and a number of others started organisations like Taranaki Futures. We wanted to provide a bridge for young people to see a positive future where they can succeed, and create vital links to adult mentors and coaches,” says Young.

Self-belief and confidence are such essential attributes for young people. As it is, most of these are created externally by other people’s opinions or words.

Parents play a huge role in helping a young person shape their self-esteem. If the parent is supportive, encouraging and patient; that young person has a good chance in developing a positive self-belief with the ability to be positive themselves, friendly to others and bounce back from their own personal failures. These are critical formative skills in a young person’s life. If they are strong features, it will define much of their future endeavours and success.

If the parent is criticising, demeaning, and abusive; the young person’s self-esteem is hammered and bent out of shape. Often their negative behaviour is acted out of their own hurt. All this starts at an early age.

In the self-esteem journey, for those young people who struggle academically, it’s important to help them find success in their education journey. That doesn’t mean we dilute academic standards, but these days many educationalists understand that learning is not always in front of a teacher with a text book. The best form of learning is experiential where immersion in a workplace, gives context to the text book. It gives shape and clarity to the learning process.

This is a key principle of Taranaki Futures called “LINE OF SIGHT”. If students can see the purpose of learning, on the job and on the tools, they will become more strongly engaged and will start succeeding. The result will be a higher level of confidence, pride and belief in themselves that they can succeed. That confidence and sense of direction has to be the greatest head start a young person can have,” says Young.

For struggling young people, online sites to help young people have seen a wide uptake of use. Such a website is www.thelowdown.co.nz and is an interactive site where young people can get help 24/7.  69% of usage of this site has been with people under the age of 24. It says “there are lots of ways you can start tackling feeling bad, overwhelmed or just plain sad today. A lot of them are pretty easy too – like getting some fresh air and sleeping better.

Young says “Taranaki is such a great place. It is a sad fact that more people take their own lives in Taranaki than NZ’s national average over all ages. However youth suicide is lower in Taranaki on average than the average across the country per 100,000 – but every life lost is one too many,” says Young.

I asked my son how many young people he knew who had taken their lives. The answer was five. When I was his age, there weren’t any I knew. Mental health is a growing issue for countries all around the world and New Zealand is no exception.  The answer is as much in our communities as it is in our clinicians. We can all be part of the answer.  

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