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Few schools 'well-placed' to support students' mental health issues, report shows

Lucy McSweeney, 21, is hoping to change the way students talk about mental health.

Young people are suffering in silence as New Zealand schools fail to support students' mental health. 

Only 11 of 68 schools evaluated by the Education Review Office were found to be "well-placed" to promote and respond to student wellbeing. 

A national report on the Prime Minister's Youth Mental Health Project (YMHP) indicated schools varied in how well they could support students.

Two summaries of the report were scheduled for release on April 12, but were pushed back due to the release of the People's Mental Health Review, which featured 500 stories of people who have either accessed or worked within the country's mental health system. 

LGBT students, disabled youth and young people living in Christchurch are most at risk in terms of their mental health, the Youth Mental Health Report has found.

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More than 3000 youth from the Far North, west Auckland, Hawke's Bay, Lower Hutt, east Christchurch and Invercargill were spoken to as part of the Prime Minister's Youth Mental Health Project.

The evaluation, carried out by the Social Policy Evaluation and Research Unit (Superu), surveyed youth aged 12 to 19, along with 700 people who support youth, to find out what has worked and what needs improving. 

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ERO found a further 39 schools had elements of "good practice," while 18 had a "range of major challenges that affected the way they promoted and responded to student wellbeing".

Four schools were considered to be "overwhelmed by their issues" and "unable to adequately promote student wellbeing," the December report stated. 

An ERO spokeswoman referred Stuff to a 2013 report on improving school guidance and counselling when approached for comment. 

ERO measured how well each school provided support for students through a two-phase evaluation - surveying school leaders, guidance counsellors and students, and by conducting school visits. 

Challenges were mostly related to the stigma that came with accessing support and the complex referral path to already-overwhelmed services, the ERO report stated.

GROUPS MOST AT RISK 

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth, people with disabilities and those not in education or employment were found to be most at risk.

LGBT youth had poorer emotional health, were less likely to seek help at school and exhibited more risky behaviour than any other group surveyed. 

They were three times more likely to self-harm - 51 per cent reported self-harming in the past year - were more likely to be absent from school and had higher rates of alcohol and drug use.

Rainbow Youth spokesperson Toni Duder said the statistics "weren't surprising". 

Schools have "a lot of work to do to support LGBT youth," to make sure "we are not just talking about gender and sexuality in a health class once a term", Duder said. 

By region, Christchurch youth reported the highest levels of depression, anxiety, self-harm and low self-esteem in the country. 

Christchurch's statistics were "consistently different" to the rest of the country, the study said, which complemented other research showing the impact of the earthquakes on mental health.

Dr Sue Bagshaw, founder of the 298 Youth Health Centre in Christchurch, said the city's youth mental health services were at breaking point.

"We're at crisis level and nothing seems to make any difference," she said.

STIGMA STILL A SERIOUS ISSUE 

One in three students said it was not socially acceptable at their school to get counselling, the report found. 

Most commonly, students were worried about being judged by their peers, bullied or talked about. 

Lucy McSweeney, 21, knows that feeling all too well. She was a top student at school, but struggled with her mental health. 

She was afraid to talk about what she was going through out of fear she'd been seen as "weak" or "less capable".

McSweeney recently started a petition to campaign for compulsory mental health education in the New Zealand, to reach students "who don't feel like they can ask for help".

"When you're at school you want to fit in. Teenagers don't want to be seen as different," she said. 

Stuff

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