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Partnership to develop specialist Youth Mental Health First Aid programme

An innovative international Mental Health First Aid training programme focused on supporting youth aged 11-18 is set to be piloted in the Southern Lakes region and rolled out across New Zealand in the next 12 months.

Te Hau Toka Southern Lakes Wellbeing Group has partnered with Te Pou, a national workforce development provider for the mental health, addiction, and disability sectors to bring the programme to Aotearoa.

Te Hau Toka is providing Te Pou with the funding required to adapt the Youth Mental Health First Aid programme for New Zealand-specific use.

The work is expected to take about six months to complete and will involve integrating cultural considerations, lived experience, use of language, relevant data and research, and clinical treatment pathways into the programme. The associated teaching tools, new instructor training and resources will also need to be developed

The programme covers common mental health challenges and crisis experienced by young people including depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, substance use, psychosis. Participants are taught an action plan that provides the steps to provide first aid to a young person experiencing a mental health challenge or crisis. The course also covers how to communicate with young people and outlines professional support pathways.

Once Te Pou completes the programme adaptation, 10 people who work with youth in a variety of settings will be selected from across the Southern Lakes region to pilot the 14-hour Youth Mental Health First Aid programme under a ‘Train the Trainer’ model. This will certify them to train other adults working with youth in places such as schools, sports clubs and youth groups as well as caregivers, parents and whānau to become Youth Mental Health First Aiders.

The next step in the Southern Lakes region will be co-ordinating a plan for the trainers to upskill and deliver Teen Mental Health First Aid in Queenstown, Wānaka, Cromwell and Fiordland. This will involve working directly with teens on youth-specific mental health challenges, reducing stigma, creating action plans to help friends and peers facing mental health challenges or a crisis such as suicide, and learning how and when to involve a responsible and trusted adult.

Te Hau Toka Southern Lakes Wellbeing Group Chair Adell Cox believes enabling this work is critical for supporting rangitahi now and in the future.

“Prevention and early intervention are key to keeping our communities well and there’s a real need for more evidence-based specialised training to support our young people.

“Our youth mental health specialists have worked hard to identify a solution which will help us upskill key people in the Southern Lakes region. By working with Te Pou and paying the one-off development costs, we will be able to use this internationally acclaimed programme locally as well as making it available nationally through Te Pou so that other regions can benefit at a fraction of the cost.”

Ms Cox says adolescence is the peak age of onset for mental health challenges. Half of all people who will ever have a mental health challenge will experience their first episode before 18 years of age.

“Early onset of mental health challenges is a significant predictor for future episodes but adolescents and young adults are less likely to seek or receive treatment than the wider population. This means that the adults around them can affect whether or not help is sought, and how quickly. It’s vital that we educate those people and give them the knowledge, tools and support to do that.”

Te Pou Chief Executive Rae Lamb is delighted to see the youth programme be adapted for New Zealand.

“Research shows that the Youth Mental Health First Aid course provides participants with the knowledge and skills needed to assist a young person who is experiencing a mental health challenge. The value and relevance of the programme is well recognised internationally so we’re thrilled that, with Te Hau Toka’s help, we can bring it to New Zealand.”

Te Pou is the New Zealand license holder for Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), a suite of internationally acclaimed and evidence-based, accredited training programmes that empower and equip individuals with the knowledge, skills and confidence needed to support a friend, family member or co-worker experiencing a mental health challenge or crisis. As part of the global community MHFA Aotearoa joined a further 24 countries offering these programmes.

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