Employing a nurse in every secondary school to address New Zealand’s lamentable youth suicide problem is ignoring and bypassing already existing resources, says the NZ Association of Counsellors (NZAC).
Speaking to Labour’s election year congress recently, Jacinda Arden promised to place a nurse into every public secondary school should Labour form a government in September. Schools will also get the support of a GP.
NZAC life member and retired Canterbury University Professor of Counsellor Education, Bob Manthei, supports Labour’s willingness to address one of the highest rates of youth suicide in the developed world with both funding and specialist personnel.
However, he says the party is tackling the problem of suicide from the wrong direction, and should consult existing school counselling services that are dealing with the issue at the coalface.
“We have known about New Zealand’s atrocious youth suicide statistics for a long time, but the Labour Party’s call for nurses in every public secondary school as a solution is a surprising response.
“If Labour are serious about mental health, then they should be advocating for more school counsellors, a valuable resource that already exists in schools and should be strengthened and extended.
“Nurses are highly qualified in their particular field of expertise but not necessarily mental health issues such as suicide – our youth need the right service for the right problem.
“Many schools have too few counsellors, or use their counsellors in ways that take them out of direct service to students and into administrative or teaching roles. This is a waste of personnel.”
The current ratio of counsellors to students in secondary schools is inadequate and too often one counsellor is regularly responsible for seeing up to 1000 students, Prof Manthei says.
He advocates improving the ratio to 1:400 in order to more effectively deal with teenagers’ complex issues before they become dire.
“We know early intervention in childhood mental health issues is essential. It follows, too, that we should be looking to employ counsellors in primary and intermediate schools.”