Youth services in Central Otago will be the first to benefit from an innovative programme aimed at supporting the mental health of 11- to 18-year-olds.

The first accredited Youth Mental Health First Aid Aotearoa instructors have graduated and are ready to share their knowledge to train other adults who work with young people.

Half of all people who face mental health challenges first experience problems before they are 18 years old, yet statistically young people are less likely to seek or receive treatment for mental health challenges than the rest of the population.

Te Hau Toka Southern Lakes Wellbeing Group chairwoman Adell Cox said the training was a collaboration between Te Hau Toka, which was set up to deal with the mental health impacts of Covid, and Te Pou, the New Zealand licence holder for Mental Health First Aid (MHFA).

The MHFA programme upskilled people working with youth, helping them to understand their challenges and how to support them, she said.

Te Pou chief executive Rae Lamb said it had taken six months to bring the programme to New Zealand.

While it was known there was a need for more evidence-based specialised training to support young people, there had been a lot of work done to adapt it to New Zealand’s youth.

That work, including cultural considerations, clinical treatment pathways and use of language, meant the programme would be worthwhile for our young people, she said.

‘‘The value and relevance of the programme is well recognised internationally, so we’re thrilled that. with Te Hau Toka’s help, it is now available in Aotearoa.’’

Workshops would be run in Queenstown, Wa ¯naka, Central Otago and Fiordland by the new graduates.

The 14-hour programme they would offer trained other adults in sports clubs, schools and youth groups, as well as parents, caregivers and wha ¯nau, to become trained first-aiders.

It would cover common mental health challenges young people experienced, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders and substance abuse.

Participants would be taught steps to provide mental health first aid and communication skills specific to young people and outline ways to get professional support.