Middle income kids falling through mental health cracks

Sad child mental health depression
Health Minister Jonathan Coleman says the programme has been a success, but there's more work to do (Getty / file)

The Government's been warned that children in middle decile schools are "falling through the cracks" when it comes to mental health.

Health officials say it's because the schools aren't eligible for public funded programmes and the parents can't afford private care.

Documents obtained by Newshub show that while the Government is hailing the Prime Minister's Youth Mental Health Project (YMHP) as "worthwhile", it's not helping address the needs of those in the middle of the income spectrum.

An evaluation of the programme said 180,000 youth had been reached so far - but there were some missing out.

"Middle decile (four to seven) schools, in particular, appear to have youth who 'fall through the cracks', as the schools are ineligible for YMHP initiatives and their parents cannot always afford private services," the report said.

Psychotherapist Kyle Macdonald told Newshub it's not surprising.

"There's a chasm in the middle, it's not even a gap anymore and people are falling into it," he said.

"Private services are there but they're expensive, and the child and adolescent mental health services are completely overrun."

In 2015 an estimated 105,000 youth (aged 12 to 19) experienced mild to moderate mental illness.

During the course of the four-year programme, a cost benefit analysis found an estimated 1764 youth went from experiencing mild to moderate mental illness to being free from mental illness.

Mr MacDonald said while the programme appears to have helped some, proper funding of the entire mental health sector is a top priority.

"I'm very happy and pleased that there are a number of families out there that I'm sure have benefitted from this programme, but when we focus in such a specific way, the reality is that other people miss out, and sadly that seems to be the case."

Labour's health spokesman David Clark agreed.

"For those people this has helped it will be terrific and we shouldn't underestimate the benefit, but it really is only a tiny portion of the overall need," he said.

Mr Clark said this is just one example of middle New Zealand missing out.

"Those at the top can sometimes afford the services if they know where to go, those at the bottom can sometimes access the services because they are struggling the most, but there is a huge swathe of people in middle New Zealand who are struggling to access health services."

The project was given $64 million in funding over four years, which the evaluation found was a "worthwhile financial investment" and that some initiatives should continue.

But Mr Clark says the $64 million doesn't even scratch the surface  

"This amount of money was never going to be enough, it's only starting to touch the edges," he said.

"We have got to fund mental health adequately."

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman says the programme has been a success, but there's more work to do.

"The Prime Minister's Youth Mental Health Project has identified a number of effective early intervention services which have benefited young people," he said.

"Work will continue across Government agencies to strengthen the reach and impact of these initiatives."

He also pointed to the National Telehealth Service - a programme that sits alongside the YMHP - saying 69 percent of contacts on SMS, email and webchat were from people under the age of 24.

The 5836 contacts saw the service exchange 43,768 text messages.