Surge in demand for counselling services in schools as mental health issues become more complex

Demand for counselling services in schools continues to soar as mental health issues become more complex.

A survey by Office Max of 335 school staff - including counsellors, teachers and principals - reveals a spike in the need for mental health support.

Sixty percent of those surveyed have seen an increase in demand for student counselling services, 49 percent weren't aware of free counselling services outside schools, and 38 percent said school counselling services do not meet students' needs.

Pinehurst School's head counsellor, Debbie Stanaway, told Newshub she's seen a surge in demand.

"Basically I'm back-to-back with students, not having a break during the day, working through morning tea and lunchtimes," she said.

"You get to a point that you're just triaging, so you're not actually doing a proper full counselling service."

She's dealing with higher numbers of at-risk students, and more who are struggling with their mental health.

"One of the highest demands I have is students experiencing anxiety," Stanaway said.

And she worries about counsellors burning out, as their workloads increase but the support for them doesn't.

"It is a real concern, I think there needs to be more counsellors in schools," said Stanaway.

Those who answered the survey say the increased need for counselling is due to a range of complex issues, including post-pandemic anxiety, social media usage, cyberbullying, exposure to violence, drugs and criminal activity, poverty and hunger.

Barnardos' general manager for child and family services, Jo Harrison, said a large proportion of the population is struggling to put food on the table.

"Poverty is huge, the inevitable consequence of poverty is families feel stress. Everyone's anxiety goes up, issues of violence and dealing with conflict starts to become more and more difficult," she said.

To help plug the gap, Barnados is urging children to call 0800 What's Up. It's the only helpline for five to 19-year-olds that employs trained counsellors and offers regular counselling with the same person.

Its team leader, Ban Al Gailani, said they've been really busy.

"Recently we've noticed a lot of emotional and psychological issues that young people are talking to us about," she said.

And after their What's Up promo appeared on TikTok at the weekend, there was a direct spike in calls.

"Within 24 hours we know that 45 children told us, because of that, they reached out to us," Harrison said.

And they're encouraging more students to do the same if they need to talk.

"We really do feel like we are a really strong back-up to those paid services within schools," she said.

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