Cross sector approach needed for youth mental health

Experts call for cross-sector solutions to tackle Aotearoa New Zealand’s declining youth mental health.

Download report: Exploring factors influencing youth mental health
Download infographic: Youth Mental Health Infographic

Researchers from Koi Tū say youth mental health needs a broader, pan-agency approach and more cross-sector collaboration to address the issue.

In a new report, Exploring factors influencing youth mental healthauthors research fellow Dr Jess Stubbing, research assistant Teina Rihari, Koi Tū deputy director Dr Anne Bardsley and director Sir Peter Gluckman have produced an interactive infographic highlighting how youth mental health challenges develop overtime and the interlinking factors that contribute.

In 2021/22, nearly one in four (23.6%) young people aged 15–24 years experienced high or very high levels of psychological distress, up from 11% in 2020 (Ministry of Health, New Zealand Health Survey, 2022). It’s part of disturbing decline seen in New Zealand and globally over the past decade.

Dr Stubbing says there is no single explanation for a decline in the mental well-being of young New Zealanders, so therefore there is no single solution to addressing it.

“Youth wellbeing is not a siloed problem and cannot be solved by the health sector alone. We need an all-of-society solutions. We need a team approach – all of us can play a part, from ministries to NGOs, to communities – we all have a role to play in supporting youth,” says Dr Stubbing.

Dr Stubbing and Sir Peter are holding workshops with agencies over the next month to help shift thinking about how different parts of the system can play a role in improving youth mental health.

“We need a rich, nuanced understanding of the determinants of youth mental-health in Aotearoa New Zealand to help us to find the best way to improve the wellbeing of the country’s young people,” she says.

The infographic covers three life stages – early childhood, childhood and adolescence. It maps multiple factors across broad areas including biology, contextual, digital, economic, education, family, peer and personal domains.

It also allows the user to look at socio-historic context by factoring in Covid-19, migration, colonisation and intergenerational trauma.

“It’s a response to the question ‘why?’ that is commonly asked when we discuss rising rates of mental-health challenges for young New Zealanders,” says Dr Stubbing.

Dr Stubbing, whose work is funded by Graeme and Robyn Hart, says those influences cannot be simplified or reduced to a handful of issues that affect all the young in the same way, she says.

“To understand young people’s mental health, we must understand this complexity. We hope this report and interactive infographic will cast light on some of that complexity.”

Although there are many factors at work, it’s also apparent the early years are important to the development of a young person’s mental well-being. It is also important to not delay attempts to improve youth mental health until the teen years.

Early intervention not only improves the quality of life of young people but also protects their well-being into adulthood.

“Mental-health challenges during youth can lead to mental-health challenges in adulthood, limit lifelong education and vocational attainment and lead to poorer health and social outcomes,” Dr Stubbing says.

A transdisciplinary approach is needed, which engages a cross section of stakeholders ensuring policy-makers, civil society, the private sector, and end users are involved in generating solutions.

“We must look at the effects of influences like the digital environment, education system, discrimination and social relationships. We need to better understand how systems within our nation and communities affect the young,” Dr Stubbing says.

The interactive infographic is available here.

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