Schools trial anti-stress programme

Christchurch mental health services are introducing an anti-stress  programme in schools to combat the rising number of teens presenting with mental health problems.

Since the Christchurch earthquakes, youth patient numbers across several Child, Adolescent and Family Mental Health services have more than doubled. As at September 2012, the service was seeing about 70 young people a week, up from 30 before the quakes. Monthly inpatient numbers had jumped to 20, up from 10, and emergency patient numbers stood at about 100, up from 50 pre-quake.

Clinical director of Child, Adolescent and Family Mental Health Dr Harith Swadi said Christchurch was now beginning to see the indirect impact of the earthquakes, such as uncertainty over insurance claims and jobs, transport woes, damaged homes and merging or closed schools.

“They all impact kids,” said Dr Swadi.

“Young people are the ambassadors of their families. However, the heads that usually supported them have their own issues.”

Nearly a third of parents in CERA’s June Canterbury Wellbeing Index survey reported ‘dealing with frightened, upset or unsettled children’.

The Child, Adolescent and Family Mental Health team is working with 20 Christchurch schools to manage stress, promote resilience and deliver interventions for students and parents.

A further 40 schools are signed up to take part in the mental health programme.

Dr Swadi hoped the programme would “make schools a fortress of mental health”.

Burnside High School head of guidance Neil Coster, who is working with the mental health team for the programme, said there had been an increase in the number of students with depression or anxiety, or who were thinking about suicide, with Year 10 and 11 girls among the worst affected.

“The earlier we can pick up low-level health issues, the easier they are to treat,” said Coster.

Dr Swadi said an increasing number of children, youth and adolescents were also presenting in rural areas, including Kaiapoi, Lincoln, Darfield, Ashburton and Rangiora, which was not surprising as many of these were the children of families who had moved away from Christchurch because they were afraid and traumatised.

He hopes to see the school programme in full swing within 10 years, with at least one mental health professional working in every Christchurch school.

_Emily Spink