Universities say they lack resources to cope with mental health support

7:57 pm on 4 October 2019

Universities say they do not have the resources to cope with the ever-increasing demand from students for mental health support.

Generic stressed worker

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Victoria University vice chancellor Grant Guilford told Morning Report today there was a "massively rising tide" of university students suffering anxiety and depression and it's making their job harder.

Shaun Robinson from the Mental Health Foundation said the tertiary sector has been caught short by the increase in demand for mental heath support.

"I just think it's been sort of left flat footed in terms of its response and it's not doing anywhere near enough."

Universities NZ, which represents all eight tertiary institutions, said it has needed to boost spending on student counselling by 25 percent since 2013 - but demand keeps growing.

Chief executive Chris Whelan said it was now spending more than $18 million a year on mental health support - but there was only so much it could do without more funds.

"The university sector is now funded on a per-student basis below the rest of the OECD. We're about 27 percent less than Australia, and only about half the funding per-student of ... a country like the United States.

"We are absolutely struggling on the resources that we have."

Youthline chief executive Shae Ronald said students were under tremendous pressure to succeed in their studies, but many young people feel isolated and lonely.

"One of the biggest reasons for people contacting us on the helpline is isolation. A lot of people don't have support around them, don't have people they can talk to about what's going on for them.

"Where ... it's okay to not feel okay and it's okay to [ask for] ... help from the people around them."

Ms Ronald said institutions like universities need to support young people suffering poor mental health who do not have their peer groups and family to call on.

Victoria University of Wellington Students' Association president Tamatha Paul said the mental health issues at universities were a microcosm of the wider problem in society.

She said there was no silver bullet.

"We need talking therapies. We need good community infrastructure. We need peer support.

"We need to ... [know] we're not going to feel exploited when we go to work or we don't have to feel like, if we go to town, we're going to be sexually assaulted.

"Because mental health is such a holistic thing. There are a lot of solutions and there's never going to be one answer to that."

Mr Whelan said universities were working on a project to determine whether their mental health spending was as effective as it could be, and once it was done they would take it to government.

Where to get help:

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7) or text 4202

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz

What's Up: online chat (3pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 helpline (12pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-11pm weekends)

Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)

Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

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