16 Aug 2017

Mental health screening in schools 'won't work without extra support'

1:06 pm on 16 August 2017

A multi-million-dollar screening process to identify students with mental health problems is well-meaning but futile without increased specialist support, school counsellors say.

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Photo: 123RF

The government has said it will put $23 million into pilot schemes to universally screen and identify troubled students, and provide them with fast, easy access to help so it does not get in the way of their learning.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said the purpose of the screening scheme was to catch problems early.

"If we can actually build resilience in the population in that very young school age, you're going to have people going through and living much more functional lives and becoming less likely to be unwell," he said.

A 2012 survey found students' mental wellbeing had deteriorated since 2007, with more depressed, deliberately self-harming, or thinking about suicide.

Mangere College school counsellor Katherine Barclay said the situation had worsened since then and a better screening system would not resolve the problem of a shortage of specialist help, however.

"We often find that there's a huge delay in getting our young people seen by the specialist professionals that can do more than what we can in the schools," she said.

"It's the extreme cases, the high-risk ones, that we are trying to get support for."

Otago Girls' High School counsellor Ada Crowe also said more students were showing up with mental health concerns.

She said there was often a two-month - instead of the mandated two-week - wait when she referred students to specialist mental health workers.

That sent a message to the young person who needed help that they were "not important", she said.

"If you're told that they've got a two-month waiting list, well, how helpful is that."

Association of Counsellors president Bev Weber was cautiously upbeat about the trials, but said more guidance counsellors - including ones at primary schools - would be needed to make it work.

"These pilots and trials are going to have to be monitored really closely, and the government's going to have to accept that there will be follow-up and follow-up funding required if these programmes take off," she said.

The government is moving to have the pilot schemes begin next year.

It was also giving district health boards an extra $100m over four years to improve their mental health services.

Where to get help:

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

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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