Youth Reports - Summary of Findings

Youth191Mental Health

Data shows that:

  • most students are happy or satisfied with their lives, have good wellbeing and are not depressed


  • a large number of students reported high levels of distress, with symptoms of depression generally particularly high among female students
  • youth emotional and mental health appears to have worsened compared to previous Youth2000 surveys in 2001, 2007 and 2012, with most of this change occurring since 2012 (Fleming et al., 2014)
  • there is persistent and growing mental health inequity between Māori and other ethnic groups
  • socioeconomic deprivation is important, with symptoms of depression and rates of suicide attempts generally higher among those living in lower income communities.

Logo Line

What helps to improve mental health?

There are many things we can do to help prevent problems and to support young people when times are tough. Things that help promote good emotional and mental wellbeing and reduce distress include:

  • caring and supportive families, including a strong relationship with a caring adult
  • fostering a strong sense of cultural identity and belonging
  • acceptance of identity (ethnicity, abilities, sexual and gender identity, etc.)
  • having fun and being around people who care
  • a sense of purpose or achievement in daily life and hopes for the future
  • supportive schools, where there are adults who care, teachers have high expectations and students are treated fairly
  • activities, sports, arts, groups that offer a sense of belonging
  • having good friends to talk to and who look out for each other
  • other adult supports and mentors (coaches, youth workers, church leaders, etc.)
  • freedom from violence, bullying and discrimination
  • safe communities where there are things to do
  • opportunities to achieve, lead and learn
  • volunteering and employment opportunities
  • help when things go wrong, such as from school-based health teams, youth one stop shops, or Whānau Ora, or via online, phone and texting services (e.g., Aunt Dee, Youthline, 1737 or Healthline)

Logo Line

Substance Use - smoking, vaping, alcohol use, and use of marijuana and other drugs

There were very large declines in cigarette smoking and binge drinking for New Zealand secondary school students from 2001–2019. This finding is consistent with international research highlighting a general decrease in youth substance use in many countries in the first part of the 21st century. However there are some indicators that behaviours such as smoking may no longer be declining or may be beginning to increase again in some countries (ASH, 2020; Ball et al., 2020b; Inchley et al., 2020; Johnston et al., 2020).

  • Most students do not smoke, vape, drink alcohol, or use marijuana or other drugs.
  • Regular cigarette smoking is now uncommon overall, but ethnic and socioeconomic differences remain stark. In particular, youth smoking remains relatively common in Māori, Pacific and low-income communities.
  • Vaping has emerged as a new issue.
  • Binge drinking is still prevalent, especially among older students.
  • Weekly marijuana use has been relatively stable over time, and is now more prevalent than weekly cigarette smoking.
  • For many health risks, risks are higher in poorer communities, for example smoking and cannabis use are more common in higher deprivation areas. However, vaping and binge drinking do not operate this way. Rather, regular vaping is more common in wealthier communities and binge drinking is common in all socioeconomic groups

 Logo Line

What helps to reduce smoking, substance abuse and risky drinking?

There are many things we can do to help;

  • safe communities where there are fun things to do
  • freedom from violence, bullying and discrimination
  • supportive schools, where there are adults who care, teachers have high expectations, and students are treated fairly
  • acceptance of identity (ethnicity, abilities, sexual and gender identity, etc.)
  • fostering a strong sense of cultural identity and belonging
  • caring and supportive families.

In addition, there are factors that more directly address substance use and addictive behaviours such as:

  • ensuring harmful substances are not available in communities
  • adults role modelling healthy choices and not supplying substances
  • clear communication of expectations to young people
  • families knowing where young people are and who they are with

Logo Line

East Asian, South Asian, Chinese and Indian in Aotearoa New Zealand

East Asian - who self-identified with one or more of the following ethnicities: Filipino, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Burmese, Indonesian, Lao, Malay, Thai, Karen, Chin, Chinese, Hong Kong Chinese, Cambodian Chinese, Malaysian Chinese, Singaporean Chinese, Vietnamese Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, Korean, Mongolian, Tibetan, Southeast Asian.

South Asian - who self-identified with one or more of the following ethnicities: Indian, Bengali, Fijian Indian, Indian Tamil, Punjabi, Sikh, Anglo Indian, Malaysian Indian, South African Indian, Sri Lankan, Sinhalese, Sri Lankan Tamil, Afghani, Bangladeshi, Nepalese, Pakistani, Eurasian, Bhutanese, Maldivian

Data shows that:

  • One in four Asian students reported being treated unfairly by a teacher because of their ethnicity,
  • 10% reported being bullied in school because of their ethnicity or religion, and
  • about half felt unsafe in their neighbourhood.
  • They were also more likely to report witnessing or experiencing violence at home compared to their European peers.
  • Many reported significant rates of emotional and mental distress.
  • Mental health, particularly among female students, is of significant concern for this population.

Logo Line

Recommendations For service providers

  • Create safe and inclusive spaces (physical and social) where young people of all ethnicities can safely access health and community services, outside of the usual health care settings.
  • Empower young people to have a voice in what the safe and inclusive spaces may look like.
  • Service providers could consider, if appropriate, a brief screen of presenting youth regarding experience of bullying, mental health, family violence, sexual health, substance use and gambling and other concerns with referral for appropriate support as required.
  • All youth, including those who self-identify with an Asian ethnic group, should be assured of confidentiality at the commencement of clinical interactions and this could be reiterated by service providers to their employees and also emphasised as part of Continuing Medical Education for health professionals.


 Please click here to return to the Winter Newsletter Homepage