Mental Health (including drug and alcohol)

Good mental health is a recognised requirement for good physical health, and a vital part of overall wellbeing.  Mental and emotional wellbeing include how people feel, think, behave and think about themselves.  It is important to recognise that mental health is not just about mental illness.  Feeling tired, worried, or stressed can all be indicators of poor mental health.   

Poor mental health can cause or worsen a number of physical symptoms including headache, sleep disturbance, stomach upset, skin conditions, and breathing problems.  In the longer term, chronic stress can also contribute to the development of more serious health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, stomach ulcers, substance abuse, and a weakened immune system.

In addition, mental health is often negatively affected by the misuse of alcohol and other drugs.  

Alcohol remains the most commonly used drug, with 85% of New Zealanders (aged 15-65 years) reporting themselves to be consumers.  As with other drugs, alcohol can negatively affect a number of important functions, including reaction rates, co-ordination, judgement, memory, and learning ability.  Alcohol and other drugs can also intensify emotions like anger and frustration, leading to violence and destructive actions.  

Alcohol and other drugs have generally increased in their availability and it is likely that every school will have a number of students, staff and parents/whanau who are using these substances in a manner which is hazardous to their health, and a risk to those around them.  Alcohol and drug misuse can cause financial and personal problems, impacting negatively on mental health and resulting in staff and students who are unable to concentrate, or who don’t attend school.

As young people and teaching staff spend approximately half their waking hours in school, inevitably the quality of experiences between teachers, students and peers will affect emotional wellbeing.  The school is therefore a great place to implement strategies that promote good mental health for both students and staff.  

Did you know?

  • One in five New Zealanders are affected by mental illness every year.

  • Poor mental health increases the likelihood of sleep disturbance and anxiety, which can reduce the ability of students and staff to concentrate on work tasks.

  • Research in New Zealand confirms that teenagers are less inhibited about drinking to intoxication than adults, with one survey finding that 59% of 12 to 17 year olds believe it is OK to get drunk (as long as it is not every day) compared with 39% of those aged 18+

  • Just over 30% of New Zealanders aged 16 - 24 reported using drugs of some kind for recreational use in the past 12 months.


Information and guidelines on ways to support good mental health in schools can be found in our Guidance documents section.  In order to ensure sustainable changes in mental health, it is important that these guidelines are implemented using a 'whole school approach'.  This means embedding the mental health messages and practices into Curriculum, teaching and learningSchool organisation and ethos and Community links and partnerships.

To see examples of what other schools have done, check out our Case studies section, and be sure to look through our Resources for links to free toolkits, posters, books and other information to support your mental health programme.

Page updated 18 Jan 2016