Young people waiting months for mental health appointments

Young people desperate for help to deal with mental health issues are waiting too long for even a first appointment with support services.

Nearly 1500 under-18s are waiting longer than two months, and it's not just teenagers, but thousands of younger children are crying out for help and not getting it fast enough.

What's become known as the 'John Kirwan effect' has seen more and more New Zealanders seek help for mental health issues. But our services are failing to keep up and student Lucy McSweeney says it's not good enough.

"As a young person who has sought mental health help, I really needed that help when I reached out, and I needed it then."

There are simply not enough support workers, counsellors and psychologists, especially for young people like Ms McSweeney.

"If people are hearing that their friend asked for help and didn't hear back, that may discourage them from seeking help," she says.

New Ministry of Health data is stark: nearly 17,000 young people needed help, but a third - more than 5,000 - waited longer than three weeks.

  • 16,848 people under 18 needed mental health help
  • 31 percent (5008) of them waited more than three weeks to be seen
  • 9 percent (1554) waited more than two months to be seen

Green Party Mental Health Spokeswoman Chlöe Swarbrick says the country is at crisis point.

"We're in the middle of a mental health epidemic and we need to be doing everything that we can, and that looks like backing successful programmes that are currently running through this country."

The new data shows that the situation is even worse for children.

  • 6470 children under 11 needed mental health help
  • 41 percent (2658) of them waited longer than three weeks to be seen
  • 12 percent (822) waited more than two months to be seen
Young people waiting months for mental health appointments
Photo credit: Newshub.

Clinical psychologist Dougal Sutherland says the gaps in the system could be dangerous for Kiwi youth.

"At worst it could put people off seeking help, just giving up and saying 'There's no point, there's no one here to help me.' It could be quite difficult for young people who are on that waitlist."

Health Minister David Clark says the issue hasn't come out of nowhere.

"This problem hasn't built up overnight, it's a workforce issue that's taken years to create, years of underfunding and stress in the health system, and of course we can't magic up those qualified people overnight."

The Government has promised a review of the mental health system, but while it spends its time reviewing the problem, vulnerable young people continue to be failed by the system.