Focus on youth wellbeing more urgent than ever

More evidence of the state of New Zealand youth mental health — Youth and rangatahi wellbeing and access to services assessment — has been released today and shows that while most youth and rangatahi are doing well, there is a steady decline in youth wellbeing in comparison to older age groups more recently.

The data has been collated by Te Hiringa Mahara - Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission and while the latest data showed 74% of 15 – 24-year-olds reported good mental health, there are ongoing negative trends.

There has been a steady decline in mental wellbeing for young people more recently, with 1 in 5 young people experiencing higher rates of psychological distress than other age groups. At the same time, young people are less likely to get professional help for their mental health needs when they need it,” said Dr Ella Cullen, Director Wellbeing Insights and Leadership, for Te Hiringa Mahara.

Addressing the underlying causes behind poorer mental health for youth is an urgent priority. For example, households with young people residing in them are less likely to have enough income to meet everyday needs than households without young people present.

What is clear from the data is that there are some young people who are experiencing more hardship than others. For example, rangatahi Māori, disabled and LGBQTIA+ people are subject to higher levels of inequities when compared to older age groups, and lowered wellbeing than their peers, she said.

Across the board, young people who are disabled and those that identify as LGBTQIA+experience more discrimination, loneliness, lower trust in others, and feeling like what they do is worthwhile.

Te Hiringa Mahara research looked at wellbeing data from the General Social Survey (GSS), Te Kupenga (TK), the Household Economic Survey (HES), the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), and Ministry of Education administrative data (MoE) using datasets from 2018 & 2024.

Average youth mental wellbeing scores dropped between 2018 and 2021, continuing a longer-term decline, and in 2022/23, one in five 15 to 24-year-olds experienced psychological distress. This is higher than other age groups, and it has risen over time.

In 2022/23, double the number of youth, in comparison to other age groups, did not receive professional mental health support when they felt they needed it. The analysis also showed longer wait times for specialist services and decreasing rates of access for these services.

We know from other research from Te Hiringa Mahara that addressing root causes of mental health and wellbeing such as improving trust, household income, and fostering intergenerational connection and inclusion will see improvement in the declining rates of youth wellbeing,” Dr Cullen said.

This analysis supports our recommendations for system leaders, agencies, and other organisations in Aotearoa to work together and empower rangatahi and young people to make long-term, systemic changes to address the structural barriers to wellbeing. We must collaborate to act on these findings and improve mental health and wellbeing for rangatahi, young people and our future generations.

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Youth infographic Facebool