27 Sep 2018

Victoria University: Suicidal student wasn't evicted, but told to leave

11:14 am on 27 September 2018

The vice-chancellor of Victoria University is insisting it did not evict a Wellington student from a hall of residence after she tried to commit suicide last year.

But it has confirmed it told the woman she would need to leave.

Student hall of residence Cumberland House.

Cumberland House in Wellington. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

The student said the Cumberland House hall manager told her the day after her suicide attempt she could no longer stay, because of health and safety reasons.

But vice-chancellor Grant Guilford said the use of the word "evicted" was inaccurate.

"The student in question was not evicted. None of our students would be evicted from a hall," he said.

"When we have a suicide attempt in a halls of residence then usually the student is returned directly to their family or they come back to the halls. If they come back to the halls then we sit down and work through an individual care plan, and part of that care plan is usually a strong recommendation that their health is best protected by going back into a supportive family environment.

"So that conversation occurs and then there's an arrangement made for the individual's family to pick them up."

He said occasionally the university had to "insist" that a student leave when they did not want to.

"We've had a small number of occasions over the years where we've had to insist that a student goes for their own protection and for the protection of the others," he said.

"We are firm about this. Just popping someone back into a hostel room because they say they're going to be okay isn't good practice and isn't good care.

"But we would never do that in the sense of 'here's your suitcase, you're evicted and you're on the street'."

He said leaving the halls of residence was the best course of action for a student after such an incident.

Mr Guilford also said Dani was given an individual care plan, just not by the university.

"Our counselling service works closely with the hospital and between the hospital and the university a care plan is developed. If the hospital has developed a care plan then we usually respect [that] care plan."

But in a post on social media, Dani said Mr Guilford should consider checking up on whether the system was working.

"If my father had not flown down to be there with me (at his own expense), I would have been on the streets."

She said that if Mr Guilford's claims were true, "there would not be so many horrific stories of mistreatment of mental health within student accommodation halls".

The University also said it was concerned that it only had a few hours to respond to RNZ's questions.

Student magazine Salient, which published Dani's story on Monday, had approached the university two weeks prior to that, spelling out Dani's account and asking for a response.

A spokesperson for the communications team said the questions RNZ had asked were different to the ones asked by Salient.

Mental health services poorly resourced - students

Victoria University student association president Marlon Drake said mental health services were poorly resourced and students faced long waiting times.

The service is paid for out of the university student levy, which Mr Drake said was also the case at other tertiary institutions around the country.

"There is absolutely no public funding going into a really valued student health service, whose services aid a large portion of the community," he said.

Mr Drake said someone needed to step up to fill the funding gap and his organisation was advocating for action.

If Victoria University wasn't able to put in money he would like it to support the association's call for public funding, he said.

Student counselling services manager Gerard Hoffman said anyone who presented with a high need or were a risk to themselves could be seen on the day.

The longest waiting time for students was about five to six weeks.

Like most mental health providers the counselling service was under pressure, he said.

"What we have done is prioritise students in high distress and high need."

The service gets around $60 or $70 per student from the annual student levy, and Mr Hoffman said ideally there would also be some Ministry of Health or government funding.

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