Cure Kids was created 46 years ago to address the worsening child-health standing in New Zealand. During that time, close to $40 million has been invested in child-health research. Major breakthroughs have been made in areas such as sudden infant death syndrome, stillbirth, cystic fibrosis, sudden cardiac death and many other conditions.
Director of research for Cure Kids, Tim Edmonds, says that while New Zealand is a wealthy country with a world-class health system, significant child health challenges remain. “More needs to be done to improve the health of our young people and research is the way in which solutions can be discovered,” Edmonds says. “It’s not just a matter of researching adults and then applying it to kids.”
Along with acting as a national voice for child health research and providing funding across a wide range of child health conditions, Cure Kids invests in strategic funding programmes, one of which focuses on mental health in young people. “Mental health conditions have a significant impact on young people, their families and wider communities,” Edmonds says.
Cure Kids’ Chair of Child and Adolescent Mental Health, Professor Sally Merry, leads a team of researchers dedicated to improving Kiwi kids’ mental health. Internationally, mental-health conditions in children are a major cause of disability, yet they remain largely undiagnosed and untreated. “Between one-fifth and one-quarter of young people have had a clinically significant episode of depression [and] around 70 per cent of them never get treated,” Merry says.
The figures are similar for anxiety and behavioural difficulties in young children. “Mental-health services treat about three per cent of the child and adolescent population, but we know up to a fifth to a quarter of that population will have clinically significant mental-health problems at any one time.”
The aim is to increase awareness and improve services. Often, the very nature of conditions such as depression and anxiety also prevents sufferers from being able to seek help. “Anxiety and depression are internalising disorders, so I think often young people suffer in silence,” she says. “They may feel ashamed of it and may not even recognise what it is.”
In 2014, the team launched SPARX, an online gamified version of cognitive behavioural therapy. According to the British Medical Journal, the free self-help e-therapy tool has proven to be as effective as face-to-face therapy. “There was a significant drop in depression and anxiety,” says Merry.
With partnership funding from the Hugh Green Foundation, Cure Kids is now investigating whether other mental-health issues could be addressed using technology-based tools.
For more information, visit curekids.org.nz