Uncertain futures causing declining mental health outcomes for rangatahi Māori

May 24, 2023

Uncertain futures causing declining mental health outcomes for rangatahi Māori

Mounting uncertainty and limited opportunities are among several factors responsible for poor mental well-being. Photo: Supplied.

Racism, discrimination, and uncertainty about the future is negatively affecting mental health of Māori youth, according to a new report by Te Hiringa Mahara (Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission).

These factors along with social media expectations, online safety, and weak intergenerational connections are highlighted as reasons for declining mental health.

Te Hiringa Mahara’s report on declining youth mental health outcomes is the culmination of years of self-advocacy by rangatahi Māori and a call to action.

The report collects information from the public, youth-led organisations, and academic literature over a three-year period between 2018 - 2021.

University of Auckland Research Fellow Dr Jessica Stubbing says incorporating youth voices into policy surrounding mental health needs to be an urgent priority. 

“It’s a field in which there are sizeable knowledge gaps. We need to know more about what young people think, particularly diverse groups of young New Zealanders.”

“Young people are the experts on their world, and we know that youth culture moves very quickly, particularly on social media, so we need to be talking to them and hearing their perspectives,” she says.

The report provides a list of demands covering education reform, increased workforce opportunities, involvement of rangatahi Māori in decision-making, and autonomy for iwi, hapū and whānau to make and operate decisions about their lives as expressed in Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

In an interview with RNZ, Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission Chief Executive Karen Orsborn says rangatahi must navigate unique challenges, whether that be climate change or an increasingly online world.  

"It's not only the challenges but it's the combined impact of those challenges that are creating the uncertainty and a sense of being overwhelmed,” says Osborn.

“Climate change is a big issue, it's consistently raised by young people as being an area of significant concern, and the recent climate events have made this much more real for people.”

Another well-being report released by Te Tai Ōhanga in late 2022 showed that youth in Aotearoa have worse outcomes when compared to other countries and generations.

Māori represent almost a third of those with poor mental well-being, alongside those with disabilities and people who identify as LGBT+ making up nearly half of those struggling.

Work and Wellbeing Statistics Senior Manager Becky Collett says disabled people, single parents, and people who identified as LGBT+ were amongst those who experienced higher rates of poor overall mental wellbeing.

Koi Tū Director Sir Peter Gluckman says reversing the decline in youth mental health requires systemic action and nuanced understanding of what influences well-being outcomes.

“If we want to see a New Zealand that thrives in the future, we need to be addressing this and prioritising the voice of our rangatahi.”

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