Nationwide rainbow survey sounds alarm for mental health

Coordinated action across key areas of rainbow young people’s lives is needed to ensure they are not only safe but can thrive, according to the first national survey of rainbow youth in Aotearoa.

Led by Dr John Fenaughty, a senior lecturer in social work from the University of Auckland, the Identity survey collected the responses of 4784 rainbow young people (aged between 14-26) across New Zealand in 2021.

The aim was to understand how this community were doing in main areas of their lives like education, health, employment and in their family and living environments.

Dr Fenaughty says despite many positive findings, four negative results create "the perfect storm" to highlight major concerns for rainbow young people’s wellbeing.

“One in six (16%) participants said they didn’t feel safe at school or at their poly techs or universities; one in eight (12%) said they had moved towns or cities to feel safer as a rainbow young person; almost two thirds said they had thought about killing themselves in the previous 12 months and a majority reported having self-harmed in the past year.”

He says many rainbow young people have to deal with unsafe situations in their schools, poly techs and universities, and some report being in unsafe living situations or in unsafe communities.

Dr John Fenaughty: Four negative results create the perfect storm to highlight major concerns for rainbow young people’s wellbeing.

“It’s not surprising that we’re seeing continued mental health issues for young people who face additional stress managing their safety.”

Dr Fenaughty says a relatively high proportion of participants reported involvement with Oranga Tamariki or an experience of homelessness.

Disparities were also clear for disabled and trans and non-binary participants who reported higher rates of stigma and structural barriers than cisgender and non-disabled young rainbow people.

Additional and specific disparities were also identified for Māori participants, including those with Oranga Tamariki involvement.

On the positive front, eight out of ten are proud of their rainbow identity and are reaching out for help, with nine in ten reporting having a friend they can talk to about anything. The support from friends was nearly universal among participants and viewed as vital, particularly for young people who’d experienced homelessness.

It’s not surprising that we’re seeing continued mental health issues for young people who face additional stress managing their safety.

Dr John Fenaughty Faculty of Education and Social Work

Eight out of ten (80%) said they get along well with at least one parent or caregiver, and a high proportion, often the majority, of participants reported experiencing safe and supportive education and employment contexts.

Most participants were out about their rainbow identities to someone – often peers – in these contexts, and pride events were seen as a positive thing for affirming identity for most participants.

Dr Fenaughty and his team are making specific recommendations to government based on these findings.

“In the face of often-pervasive prejudice and discrimination, rainbow youngpeople are still optimistic for a future that supports and uplifts rainbow communities,” he says.

“Participants shared a range of ideas to enable these positive futures, including institutional changes in health, education, employment, and the media, as well as increased awareness and support from peers, family/ whānau, their religious and ethnic communities, and broader society.”

The survey is being launched in parliament’s west foyer on Thursday 8 December, where Green MP Dr Elizabeth Kerekere will host and Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson will make a brief speech. Dr Fenaughty will then share a summary of the report’s key findings.

Media contact

Julianne Evans | Media adviser
M: 027 562 5868