JK says teach mental health in schools

23 March 2017

Sir John Kirwan, mental health advocate and kiwi icon, was in the media recently talking about the need to teach mental health in schools. We couldn’t agree more. The school environment is critical in promoting youth wellbeing and engaging youth with health and social services, either in or away from the school setting.

"We need to teach mental health in the schools. We teach maths and science, but not that things might not go to plan and you need to have your mental health in order," he told Radio Sport.

Our recent evaluation of the Prime Minister’s Youth Mental Health Project (YMHP) found that mental health programmes aimed at young people are paying off.

The YMHP is a package of 26 initiatives designed to build on existing successful interventions and to trial new initiatives for youth in schools, the health system, their families and communities, and online. The school-based initiatives were largely targeted to decile 1-3 schools.

The evaluation found:

  • The capacity of youth mental health services increased, and more youth were identified, supported and treated. In particular, school-based health services were extended to 44 decile 3 schools and maintained in decile 1-2 schools; three different “Positive Behaviour for Learning” initiatives were piloted, and in some cases extended, involving thousands of youth; and a school-based mental health team was established in Canterbury in recognition of the extra stress youth faced following the earthquakes.
  • Some youth experienced positive changes in their mental health and wellbeing in the short term, and evidence from overseas and New Zealand studies indicates that some youth will experience better medium- to long-term life outcomes.
  • While we reported that schools varied in how well they promoted and responded to student wellbeing, most of the youth we engaged with said they had a positive sense of belonging to their school and positive student-teacher relations.
  • The project delivered a positive return on the money invested in it.
  • There are some things that can be done to improve the effectiveness of the project, including:
  • changes to the YMHP system, particularly at the local level, to ensure long-term outcomes are achieved
  • extending the school-based initiatives to more schools, rather than limiting them to decile 1-3 schools
  • improving guidance and counselling in secondary schools
  • actions to improve the effectiveness of the existing initiatives
  • taking up opportunities for additional impact
  • building the data to inform future decisions.


The evaluation is part of a wider move by government to assess how effectively policies and practices are being applied. You can read the findings on our website.

Thanks JK for highlighting the importance of teaching mental health in schools.

Last update: 23 Mar 2017