‘Appalling’ youth mental health statistics at breaking point

Bev Weber, President of the New Zealand Association of Counsellors, discusses what she argues is the “appalling” state of play of New Zealand’s youth mental health statistics. To hear more from Bev, she will chair the Law for School Guidance Counsellors Conference and facilitate the School Guidance Counsellor Perspective Group Discussion on 12 June.


‘Something’s Gotta Give’ is the title of a comedy starring Jack Nicholson as an ageing womaniser, and Diane Keaton as the object of his desire (after, of course, he’s tried seducing Keaton’s character’s daughter – it’s complicated!). The pressure Nicholson’s character is under negotiating his love life finally takes a toll on his health, and, indeed, something does actually give – but in a humorous way.

But the film’s title, ‘Something’s Gotta Give’, could equally apply to the state of play of New Zealand’s appalling youth mental health statistics. Unlike in Nicholson’s movie, there is no comedy associated with them at all.  And from a School Guidance Counsellor’s (SGC) standpoint, the fact the situation is allowed to continue as is, is woeful, verging on unconscionable.

As the President of the New Zealand Association of Counsellors, which represents SGCs, I understand many members are dealing with significant and increasing workplace stress, such is the magnitude of the problem facing them.

At many secondary schools around New Zealand, one guidance counsellor may be catering to the emotional wellness needs of more than 1000 students, including dealing with issues ranging from drug and alcohol abuse and family violence to suicidal behaviours.

Pastoral care guidelines vary among schools, structures and resourcing are not standardised and the view is that students at lower decile schools don’t always get the emotional wellness support they need.

On top of that, a recent study by the NZAC shows SGCs are under much-increased workload pressures and their ability to on-refer to other mental health professionals is limited and difficult, again because of a lack of appropriate resources in the community.

And to add insult to injury, while there’s a lot of political talk about the need to bolster youth mental health services, there seems to be little understanding or no agreement about how best to do that.

And, despite various studies stating how important SGCs are in the pastoral care environment, including the formal voices of students themselves, students in our schools continue to struggle to access SGC support, and no one (apart from NZAC) is doing anything to make that support more available.

I will host a group discussion that includes experiences and perspectives from the coalface.  SGCs will discuss the trials and tribulations of their jobs, the high points and the lows, and share their thoughts on what needs to happen in our secondary schools to enhance pastoral care and to properly address the emotional and mental wellness issues our young people are now facing.

The NZAC is also lobbying government to introduce a fixed ratio of one SGC to every 400 students on a school’s roll.  This is a bid to ensure well-rounded and appropriate support services are accessible to the growing number of young people who need them.

NZAC also wants to see SGCs in primary and intermediate schools because of the growing incidence of early presentation with emotional wellness concerns.

I will also discuss the new research project NZAC is mounting jointly with the Ministry of Education to once and for all collate hard findings about the value and effectiveness of school guidance counselling.

There’s a lot of talk about the use of social workers in schools, and nurses and other so-called mental health workers.  But in marginalising the role of SGCs, it does seem the policymakers are deliberately overlooking a proven method of supporting our young people. I hope to shed some light on that issue at the seminar.


Contact Bev Weber at president@nzac.org.nz or connect via LinkedIn LinkedIn. The New Zealand Association of Counsellors –– Te Roopu Kaiwhiriwhiri o Aotearoa was formally established in 1974 under the name the NZ Counselling and Guidance Association. To start with, it was a grouping of people either appointed to secondary schools as guidance counsellors or those involved in their training and employment. From a beginning of 42 mostly school-based counsellors NZAC now represents approximately 2500 counsellors who work in education, health ,justice and social welfare government agencies, community based social service agencies, Iwi Social Services, Pacific Island Organisations, private practice and a range of ethnicity specific helping agencies. Their work is underpinned by a rigorous membership application process, a comprehensive code of ethics, a formal complaints procedure and a commitment to supervision to professional development. You can also connect with the New Zealand Association of Counsellors via LinkedIn LinkedIn.