Christchurch earthquake damage photo by Richard Walker CC BY 2.0
Christchurch earthquake damage photo by Richard Walker CC BY 2.0

Mental health a crucial need for young people in Christchurch

I am very pleased to introduce my Youth MP Huia Jackson, from Christchurch. Huia will be joining me in the upcoming Youth Parliament, and has a particular interest in seeing Christchurch young people get better health services. The Green Party have been calling for a nationwide mental health inquiry.

Huia.Jackson Blog PhotoGuest Blog post by Huia Jackson, Youth MP for Steffan Browning

When I became a Youth MP, I asked on social media what issue I should take to Wellington. Youth mental health in Christchurch topped the charts. “We are not just whining millennials about this” was how people summed it up. I have asked to go on the Health Select Committee as a Youth MP to discuss mental health in schools. It has also driven my choice in what question I will ask in Parliament when I am there for Youth Parliament.

It is no secret that normal teen years are a self-conscious time. Imagine how that is magnified if you learn that you literally cannot trust the ground you stand on, as what happened in Christchurch. You look at other teenagers, and they seem normal. But when you get to know them, you find many people have struggled with anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. In some cases this has led to substance abuse problems. I know people who have felt suicidal, but I have been lucky enough so far not to know anyone who has committed suicide.

Life in Canterbury since the quake cycle started has, for many young people, been disrupted, depressing and unstable. I have felt the isolation that comes from this myself, compounded in my case by feeling vulnerable until I got a hearing aid because I had reduced hearing. Not being able to hear properly meant that I could not always be sure what was going on. In the general rush of things, it was hard not to worry I was making the wrong decisions. It was a backdrop of unease that made me hesitant about going out and trying new things. Not that there has been a lot of new things to try in Christchurch. I would like the rest of New Zealand to think about what it is like to have your teen years in a place where the city centre has basically gone.

The sad statistical story of how Christchurch’s mental health services have been short-changed has been well covered elsewhere. Just in brief, in a crisis-hit city the Canterbury DHB’s funding for mental health in 2015/16 was $222 per head of population, while the national average was $243. For the coming year, the Canterbury figure is expected to drop by $15 per person, while the national average will increase by about $10.

It is a shortfall of funding and that breach of faith has led our Christchurch City Council to propose putting $1 million of ratepayer money into supporting mental health services. It’s a controversial move to draw dollar for dollar support from the Government, and the move has been slammed by the local newspaper, The Press.

To quote directly from The Press editorial on the subject:

“While senior doctors, the Canterbury District Health Board, police and the now defunct Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority all added their voices to the call for more services as quake stress and anxiety levels continued mounting, the Ministry persisted with its denial the problem existed.”

A $20 million package over three years was announced earlier in the year.  However, the Canterbury District Health Board had requested additional funding specifically for mental health amounting to $4.5 million per year over 10 years.

There is abundant evidence that underspend in mental health services for the young people in Christchurch has been deliberate and prolonged. For young people who do not have previous life experience to draw upon, I believe it has been a devastating breach of trust and support.

It is just not good enough. My generation will be paying the cost for this short-changing of our needs. The Government needs to realise the recovery is about more than just rebuilding the city. They also need to invest in what makes a city work, its people. Particularly young people.


Christchurch earthquake damage photo by Richard Walker CC BY 2.0