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Mental disorders are the biggest health threat to young people, an Australian academic told a New Zealand conference.
Richard Eckersley said 20-30% of young people in developed nations suffer psychological distress and up to 50% of young people suffer less severe stress-related symptoms - headaches, stomach aches and insomnia.
"In Australia, and the situation would similar in New Zealand, mental disorders are the largest contributor to the burden of disease in young people, accounting for almost half the total burden," he told the Every Child Counts annual conference in Wellington today.
"We have seen major reductions in youth suicide and drug related deaths (in the last 20 years), but we have not improved the more fundamental features of young people's resilience and wellbeing."
Mr Eckersley said while young people were materially better off today, it was harder for them to develop a sense of identity, purpose, belonging and security.
He said increasing investment in prevention and health promotion, would help reduce psychological stress in today's young people.
Every Child Counts today called for the appointment of a Minister for Children to help put children's interest at the centre of government decision-making.
"It is time there was a minister with responsibility to oversee policy development in the interests of children, to ensure the impact of policies on children is monitored," chairman Murray Edridge said.
"We propose a new Minister for Children with senior cabinet ranking."
Mr Edridge said New Zealand's track record when it came to children was poor.
"The country has high rates of child maltreatment, and significant numbers of New Zealand children live in poverty."
Every Child Counts is a coalition formed by Barnardos, Plunket, UNICEF, Save the Children, the Institute of Public Policy at AUT, CCS Disability Action and Te Kahui Mana Ririki.