New mental health service - an equity & access gamechanger for young people

Updated: Jun 9

An innovative technology driven health access platform is already outperforming 60% of DHB's in the delivery of child, youth, and adolescent mental health support counselling in Aotearoa New Zealand.

The Gumboot Friday service for young people is a world leading 100% kiwi developed innovation. Funded entirely by the Key to Life Charitable Trust (KTL), Gumboot Friday radically improves equity and access for young people who need mental health and wellbeing support. This free service gives direct access to personalised support from a nationwide community of counsellors who are accredited and registered.

Gumboot Friday removes current system barriers, discrimination, delays and costs. It gives young people (and their families and whanau) tools to directly access mental health and wellbeing counselling. Therapy is confidential, human support from a professional of their choice. The service is designed to give young people more control and flexibility.

KTL partnered with kiwi social impact company Platforms for Good to make this mental health service available for young people anywhere in NZ. The Gumboot Friday online platform allows rangatahi to take control and find a mental health and wellbeing counsellor to meet their unique needs. Young people can choose professional, human support taking into account location, gender, ethnicity, age, and other diversity factors. These choices recognise and endorse diversity and community, both are important to our younger generations. Once the young person sorts the therapist they want to see, they get personalised services and KTL pays for the sessions provided.

So how effective is this service? During its first full year of operation Gumboot Friday' provided mental health access services to more young people than 60% of DHBs. Only 8 of the current 20 DHBs delivered more youth mental health access services than Gumboot Friday over a 12 month period (see graph below).

Gumboot Friday's data is for 12 months to December 2019. DHB data is for 12 months to June 2020. DHB data source:

These numbers don't tell the full story though. The DHBs report on the number of young people who "access" mental health services. That apparently means a young person was "seen", but it is not clear what that means. The Gumboot Friday data reports on the number of young people who actually attend personal therapy sessions (and the average was four sessions).

Government support - yeah nah

The mental health tsunami predicted by the World Health Organisation is here, due to a potent mix of mental health system barriers, Covid-19, and economic and environmental pressures on young people. It is obvious our current government-backed systems are not coping with demand.

Gumboot Friday has been developed and delivered entirely through charitable funding. This proven access gamechanger for youth and should be supported with public mental health funding. Even more so given Gumboot Friday is fully operating. The government does not have to develop anything, it can immediately support youth by funding the counselling and therapy sessions being accessed by young people across NZ. That is the most efficient and effective use of mental health funding.

Prime Minister Ardern and the previous Minister of Health were joined by mental health awareness campaigner and New Zealander of the Year, Mike King at the podium when announcing its big mental health spending plans in 2018. King is the driving force behind KTL and well knows the barriers faced by youth in accessing support. He has spoken with an estimated 350,000 young people and whanau in schools and community halls across the motu.

Despite the apparent new government funding and plans, mental health delivery systems designed by MoH and DHB officials and are languishing, institutionalised and low on innovation.

While officials fiddled, King got on with addressing barriers to access for rangatahi and started Gumboot Friday as a practical, "peoples' solution". The numbers don't lie. King's initiative and advocacy has immediately impacted access in a way the Ministry of Health and 20 DHBs had not achieved in decades and with billions in funding. Despite, or maybe because of this, Ministry of Health and DHB officials have shown no interest in supporting the innovation.

Structural reforms to the DHBs and MoH can't come fast enough for NZ. It is time to deinstitutionalise vast parts of the mental health system and wrest control away from stamp-happy officials.

Human centred kaupapa

NZ can do better, faster, by vesting trust, tools and control in the people (team of five million) at the coal face who consume and deliver mental health services. This is essentially a human based endeavour - it's not for corporate nodes.

KTL says demand from young people will accelerate further in the second half of 2021 and into 2022. If it had enough funding support, KTL could scale access for young people and Gumboot Friday this year could provide as much mental health services for young people as the country's largest DHBs. Next year it could double that. These are realistic based on its achievements to date and the resulting high quality, transparent data would provide valuable insights going forward.

Mike King, 2019 New Zealander of the Year, gets the last words. He says “our rangatahi need and are entitled to immediate, accessible mental health support. As a nation we have failed them. Now more than ever they need practical solutions that work at the human level. With Gumboot Friday we move the dial on equity and access every day. Frankly, our young people need much more support and if Gumboot Friday could offer 10 times the amount of services it would still be consumed. We have to act now to break through the access barriers in our health system.”

"There are thousands of counsellors immediately available to help our youth. The problem with current systems is youth can't get easy or funded access to therapists. Gumboot Friday addresses that with a single platform serving all of NZ, Aotearoa. It's proven, and youth are using it because it is easy, intuitive and available."

"We have to ensure more of our rangatahi get the help they deserve. The current system strangles access for youth. We are actually seeing DHBs and GPs referring kids and their whanau to Gumboot Friday. Government should support Gumboot Friday because it's real life, it works, and it's human korero therapy. We are giving young people personalised support that meets their needs and they are voting with their feet (or fingers). That is proving to be far more effective than funding more tables, chairs, computers, booking systems, waiting lists and bums on seats in the Ministry of Health or in DHBs."

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