8 Jun 2017

Student fights for better mental health education

9:46 pm on 8 June 2017

A 21-year-old student has called on MPs to push for improved mental health education in high schools.

Lucy McSweeney, an Auckland University engineeering student, today delivered a petition on the topic, signed by 9482 people, to Parliament.

She said she was inspired to begin the campaign by her own challenges with mental health in high school. "I sought help too late and struggled too long because I didn't have the education to recognise the signs of my depression, and neither did my friends."

She added she was scared of reaching out, because she thought it would make her seem weak. "I know if we'd had better education, I could have sought the right help earlier and it would have saved a lot of strife. I want to use my challenging experience to improve the outcomes for other young Kiwis."

She told RNZ she felt considerable anxiety and depression towards the end of her high school years. It was related to "normal things", including exams, friends and boyfriends. "It's easy to minimise ... but as a teenager it's real and it's tough."

She said there was mental health education in schools, but "it's quite varied, and to be honest, I think a lot of people's experience is that it's kind of like something that happens when it's too rainy to go outside and do PE [physical education]".

Miss McSweeney said some schools did really well, but she would like action to ensure more did well. In particular, she wanted requirements for mental health education to be extended to Year 13, better guidelines for what was taught, and more funding so teachers could be better trained on the topic.

Miss McSweeney's local Epsom MP, ACT Party leader David Seymour, who received the petition at Parliament, said he hoped it would be more than simply received by the education and science select committee.

"I hope that the education select committee will actually take it seriously and hold an inquiry, as they did for the Maryann Street petition on assisted dying, rather than doing what happens with many select committee petitions - that they get brushed under the carpet."

Many teachers from a wide range of schools had also voiced concerns to him about mental health education, he said.

"Kids have increasingly complex lives. They have more choices but they also have more anxieties, and I picked this up from teachers right across the electorate I represent. And I think it's important that we keep evolving the conversation about how we resource schools to deal with that."

Mr Seymour added schools need more flexibility in his view. "Not to politicise it, but I'd like to point out that partnership schools have used their flexible funding to hire kaumatua and to hire kind of coaches, some of them rugby league personalities like Filipo Levi who's working at Middle School West Auckland [and] has been able to really mentor kids."

Secondary Principals Association president Michael Williams said schools did an exceptional job with health and mental health education.

"But clearly we've got a case here that's prominent at the moment of a young person who hasn't had a good experience. So maybe we do need to have a look and see, get some data on can it be done better, or is it a case that better resourcing's required to deal with problems when they are found to exist."

Where to get help:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7)

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz

What's Up: online chat (7pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 children's helpline (1pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-10pm weekends)

Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)

Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

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