The latest Youth2000 national health and wellbeing survey (one of a series of surveys undertaken in 2001, 2007, 2012 and 2019) has reported that youth emotional and mental health is significantly worsening, with “persistent and growing mental health inequity between Māori and other ethnic groups”.1,2 For example, depressive symptoms (measured with the Short Form Reynolds Adolescent Depression Scale) increased from 13 per cent in 2012 to 23 per cent in 2019 for youth in secondary schools.1
It should be noted that “depressive symptoms” does not necessarily indicate a diagnosis of depression but does acknowledge that the person is likely to have clinically significant symptoms of depression that affect them in their daily life.1
In the 2019 survey, there were significant disparities between ethnicities, with 27.9 percent of Māori youth, 24.6 per cent of Pacific youth, 24.5 per cent of Asian youth, and 19.6 per cent of Pākehā/Other European youth reporting depressive symptoms.1
Furthermore, for Māori, there was a marked increase in depressive symptoms from 13.8 per cent in 2012 to 27.9 per cent in 2019 (relative risk 2.01) compared with a RR of 1.58 for Pākehā over the same period.3
Both Māori (13 per cent) and Pacific (12 per cent) youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than Pākehā youth (3 per cent).4
Despite higher health need, Māori youth experience significant challenges and barriers to accessing healthcare, with 26.9 per cent reporting an inability to access healthcare when needed (increasing from 21.6 per cent in 2012; RR 1.25) compared with 16.5 per cent of Pākehā youth (increasing from 15.3 per cent in 2012; RR 1.25).3
SSRI prescribing rates rising
Alongside worsening youth mental health and growing inequities, there is increasing prescribing of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants.5 This is demonstrated with dispensing data in the He Ako Hiringa EPiC dashboard showing year-on-year increases in SSRIs and other antidepressants over the last four years among youth of all ethnicities (Māori, Pacific peoples, Asian, European/Other).6 Increased prescribing could be due to growing rates of mental health problems, increasing awareness, a lack of access to talking therapies, or other factors.