Monday, August 29, 2022

Lindsay Mitchell: Why Do Our Young Lead Developed World In Poor Mental Health?

In 2020, UNICEF ranked New Zealand last of 38 developed countries in child mental well-being. In a new report for Family First, “Child and Youth Mental Health: Why New Zealand's young lead the developed world in poor mental health”, researcher Lindsay Mitchell explores the UNICEF claim.

"What I found was NZ has the worst youth suicide, self-harm and bullying statistics. Mental disorders have risen significantly, as has consumption of antidepressants and anti-psychotics. These increases are above what is occurring in the general population,” says Lindsay Mitchell.

The report gathers data from the New Zealand Health Survey, Mental Health and Addiction Services monitoring reports, Pharmac, DHBs, various longitudinal studies, Oranga Tamariki, MSD and Youth 2000 surveys.

"On the available evidence, New Zealand undoubtedly faces a mental health crisis among the young. But this may be just part of the picture. For instance, the Growing Up in New Zealand study has lost touch with hundreds of children who are the most likely to be suffering poor mental health due to exposure to accumulating adverse experiences associated with transience; multiple parental relationship transitions; young, deprived, and poorly educated mothers who disproportionately experience hardship and depression.”

“According to Oranga Tamariki, '…the alcohol and drug issue is prolific / increasing' among Family Start clients, and various data suggests thousands of babies are exposed to alcohol and other substances in utero."

"This first scenario describes an environment that elevates the risk of children developing poor mental health,” says Lindsay.

"A second scenario is of a more pervasive depression and anxiety problem exacerbated less by mayhem and material deprivation, and more by recent developments such as social media-driven poor self-image, heightened sensitivity to parental and/or peer pressure, fear of failure, climate change anxiety and confusion over sexual and gender identity. The second group may also be dealing with separated parents, torn loyalties, school and home-life upheaval and adapting to stepsiblings."

“Based on the extensive data presented, both of these groups - which no doubt overlap - are growing, along with unmet need and wait times for treatment. New questions are arising regarding the effectiveness of medication and lack of alternative therapies. There are suggestions that over-reliance on medication is reducing capacity for self-help.”

"But most importantly, a reversal of this upward surge demands a wider appraisal and acknowledgement of societal changes that have lessened the likelihood that children will experience material and emotional security and stability throughout their formative years. If children were genuinely placed at the centre of the family, given time, given unconditional love, given space to explore but surety to return to, there may still be no guarantees. But the odds of that child developing good mental health will massively increase."

Lindsay Mitchell is a welfare commentator who blogs HERE.

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