Pressure on mental health services at Victoria University

By Georgina Campbell

A recent survey completed by Victoria University showed about 45 per cent of students had poor emotional health. Photo / Getty
A recent survey completed by Victoria University showed about 45 per cent of students had poor emotional health. Photo / Getty

Victoria University's mental health services are dealing with students who need up to 25 counselling sessions a year and have nowhere to go because community resources are overloaded, managers say.

Students were frustrated last week when a miscommunication on the university's website led them to believe they could only access up to 6 counselling sessions a year.

This morning a meeting was held between students and staff to address concerns the university's mental health services were being cut.

Student Academic Services director Pam Thorburn said the university's 6-session guideline had always been used to assess further treatment for a student, including referrals.

She said the university was just trying to be more transparent by making the guidelines public.

Student counselling manager Gerard Hoffman admitted at the meeting that putting the message about the 6-session guideline on the website without context was "unhelpful".

He said the other change students voiced concern over was the introduction of an online pre-counselling questionnaire form.

Hoffman said some students struggled with the online form but overall, the response was positive.

"It's a questionnaire they can fill in during any time of the day or night.

"It asks a bunch of questions that helps them reflect on the issues going on for them. It also provides us with much better information so we can make a better decision on how to triage them."

Hoffman said a recent survey completed by the university showed about 45 per cent of students had poor emotional health.

He said last year the university's 16-strong counselling team saw more than 2100 students.

Counsellors saw about 55 per cent of those students one or two times and up to 10 per cent of them more than six times a year.

Hoffman said about 600 students had filled out the online form this year.

"It's allowed us to get an idea of the genuine need for counselling.

"In the past, we haven't known how many students have approached us and then left without making an appointment when they're faced with a long waiting time."

Hoffman said some students needed up to 25 counselling sessions a year and some couldn't be referred on to community-based counselling services because they were under-resourced.

"Free or low-cost services are almost non-existent these days.

"Many of the students who are seeing us should be able to access health-funded mental health services but we know in part that our demand is fuelled by the fact there isn't enough supply in the community."

Despite this, Hoffman assured students they would never cut them off from receiving the counselling they required.

Victoria University of Wellington Students' Association president Rory Lenihan-Ikin said he thought this morning's meeting went well.

He said students' concerns highlighted the squeeze on mental health services across the country.

"It is literally students paying for a counselling service and when there's not a public health system around it that properly supports mental health, that's obviously going to put additional pressure on the services here."

The university's counselling services and pastoral care are almost completely funded by the student levy.

- NZ Herald

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