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Call for a Covid-19 youth mental health summit - Matt Doocey

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Call for a Covid-19 youth mental health summit

The stress of the pandemic is impacting New Zealand youth, and the Health Minister must hold a Covid-19 youth mental health summit to be best prepared to help them, National’s Mental Health spokesperson Matt Doocey says.

"In New Zealand we are seeing early signs of declining mental health in our youth as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic - which other countries are calling a shadow pandemic.

"Yesterday, I wrote to Health Minister Andrew Little requesting that he urgently convene a Covid-19 youth mental health summit, to bring together the best minds to agree on how we prepare and respond.

"Research from the University of Auckland confirmed a pandemic-related increase in demand for eating disorder services for young people. DHBs are saying the pandemic has driven a surge in demand that they are struggling to meet.

"Ministry of Health data during the first year of the pandemic shows a disproportionate increase for dispensing antidepressants to younger people compared to other age groups.

"A summit is needed to identify the early signs of mental distress in our young people as a result of the pandemic, establish what further mental distress we may expect to encounter, and then agree on a national action plan to increase access to youth mental health support and reduce waiting times.

"We may not be able to stop the pandemic but we can mitigate the mental distress this is having on our young people and ensure they get timely access to the mental health support they need."

Dear Hon Andrew Little,

I am writing to you in your role as Health Minister to request that you urgently convene a youth mental health summit in response to the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on youth mental health and how to best prepare and respond. The New Zealand Covid-19 youth mental health summit should bring together academics and researchers, mental health professionals, advocates, young people with lived experience, government ministry officials and cross-party political representation.

Australian mental health professionals are calling declining youth mental health a shadow pandemic, the United Kingdom is reporting the inability of youth mental health services to respond to surging waiting times, while in the United States the Surgeon General has warned of the devastating impact of the pandemic on young people.

In New Zealand we are seeing early signs of what other countries are already experiencing. Recent research from the University of Auckland confirmed a pandemic related increase in demand for eating disorder services for young people. Recently published data for dispensing of antidepressants by the Ministry of Health during the first year of the pandemic shows a disproportionate increase for younger people compared to other age groups. DHBs are saying the pandemic has driven a surge in demand that they are struggling to meet, which is resulting in young people waiting longer than adults.

The New Zealand Covid-19 youth mental health summit is needed to identify the early signs of mental distress in our young people as a result of the pandemic, establish what further mental distress we may expect to encounter, and then agree on a national action plan to increase access to youth mental health support and reduce waiting times. Youth mental health support should be both the promotion of mental wellbeing and the treatment of mental illness.

We may not be able to stop the pandemic but we can mitigate the mental distress this is having on our young people and ensure they get timely access to the mental health support they need.

I look forward to your response on this important issue.

Yours sincerely,

Matt Doocey

National Party spokesperson for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention

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