Calls for mental health teaching to be part of all school curriculums to act as 'fence at top of the cliff'

There are calls for the Government to embed mental health teaching in all school curriculums in a bid to stop young people taking their own lives.

A group of students in the Wellington region known as the Youth Service Union (YSU) are campaigning the Government, after one of their friends died by suicide in 2018. 

Head of YSU Dallas Serj-Reilly told Newshub a meeting with Education Minister Chris Hipkins has left them disappointed.

"I was a bit pissed off," he explained. "For me, the whole purpose of the Government is to find creative ways of doing things - especially for a Labour Government whose slogan was 'let's keep moving'.

"So far, it seems like all they've been doing in the mental health sector is dump more and more money onto counsellors and Mana Ake, which says it wants to create a stronger tomorrow, but all it seems to do is create a more comfortable present."

Serj-Reilly says the Government's approach is akin to "just putting more ambulances at the bottom of the cliff" - and likens the YSU's plan to "trying to put a fence at the top". 

The students want depression and suicide talked about more openly in schools. Serj-Reilly says the Government needs to invest more in prevention, rather than just funding more counsellors. 

The group has three main goals:

  1. Funding for more Blueprint mental health 101 courses in communities and schools.
  2. Schools to include more mental health-focused internal assessments.
  3. Simple life skills and mental wellbeing advice to be taught at high schools.

Hipkins told Newshub he's heard the YSU's concerns and is continuing to work towards better mental health support in schools.

"Mana Ake is just one programme making a difference for many young people," he said.

"This Government is committed to providing mental health support for all primary and intermediate students and continuing the rollout of nurses in secondary schools.

"We know that providing support early to young people works and can help prevent mental health issues manifesting later in life."