1 May 2017

Few schools have enough resources for mental health

1:45 pm on 1 May 2017

Teen suicide and depression drops by two thirds in schools with good health services - but only one in 10 has that level of resourcing, research shows.

A staged photo of a young man hunched over, used to illustrate the use of seclusion rooms or mental health issues.

New research on youth wellbeing finds that schools with well-resourced health teams can halve suicide attempts. Photo: RNZ

The research showed that incidences of depression dropped from 14.2 percent to 4.7 percent if a school had a fully-resourced comprehensive health service. Emotional behaviour problems fell from 13 to 4 percent, and suicide attempts from 5.6 to 2 percent.

The findings came from analysis of data from the Youth 2012 Survey of about 8500 teenagers.

Auckland University associate professor Simon Denny, who did the research, told Nine to Noon the results were dramatic, but not surprising given the expertise of the people working in the health teams.

"We know that when you do have the right supports available for these young people it can make a real difference," he said

Dr Denny said effective health teams were based within schools, generally involved nurses, general practitioners, youth workers and counsellors, and had a strong partnership with their host schools.

He said good health teams were usually found in low-decile schools serving poor communities, but all schools should have them.

"We need these sorts of health services across all deciles. Because while we do see a greater number of students who have need in the lower deciles, it's certainly the case too that all schools are struggling with student wellbeing."

Dr Denny said the survey found risky behaviours such as binge drinking and smoking among teenagers generally had reduced a lot since the previous survey in 2007.

A similar trend had been found in other OECD countries.

However, the national fall in risky behaviours and in teen pregnancies was not matched by an improvement in teenagers' mental health, he said.

About 20 percent of teens involved in the study had reported a high incidence of factors associated with poverty and about three quarters of those students also indicated a high degree of housing-related stress.

Poverty was associated with worse mental health for teenagers, Dr Denny said.

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