WARNING: This article is about mental health and may be distressing for some readers.
Stress, anxiety and depression are among reasons more than half of tertiary students who took part in new research considered dropping out of study.
The findings are in the Kei Te Pai Report, released today by the New Zealand Union of Students' Associations.
Over a month, 1762 students answered an online survey about their experiences around mental health. It's the first study of its kind in New Zealand.
"We know that mental health is a serious issue among our students, as it is in society," said the union's national president, Jonathan Gee. "This research gives us a better understanding about why student mental health issues occur and the implications of this."
The opt-in survey asked questions about students' education, living situation, drug and alcohol use, relationship status and more. It also asked about their experience of tertiary institution mental health services and their mental health history. Gee said a diverse range of students participated.
Fifty six per cent of respondents said they had considered dropping out of tertiary study. The main reasons were feeling overwhelmed, living with mental illness and fearing failure.
"Work (is) making me do too many hours but I can't quit because then I wouldn't have enough money to make it through the week," said one respondent. "But then I do the hours and I can slowly feel myself getting more stressed and tired, and more behind in my school work."
Gee said tertiary education had become a "highly individualised experience" and a "means to an end rather than an end in itself. The pressure to succeed means that we have forgotten the important role of tertiary education in building community."
Students enter tertiary education because they have high hopes for themselves, and for their contribution to New Zealand, Gee added. "In order to help students succeed in their future endeavours, we must address the mental health crisis that is stopping students from reaching their full potential."
Gee said the whole country should take notice of the research.
"Our future teachers, nurses, engineers and entrepreneurs have opened up about the stresses and factors which affect their academic success. Addressing student mental health is important for students and important for New Zealand. It must be noted that this opt-in survey is not necessarily representative of all tertiary students in New Zealand. However, it does provide an important insight into the stresses and factors that impact students' mental health."
Gee said the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction, launched in January as part of the Labour-led Government 100-day plan, was a prime opportunity for a national conversation about a "much-discussed and cared-about issue".
"We are calling for a culture change within our communities so that discussing mental health, accessing support services and practising self-care is a normalised part of everyday conversations."
Gee also called for action on the commitment to free counselling for under-25s referenced in the confidence and supply agreement between the Labour and Green parties.
Acting Health Minister Jenny Salesa said the Government understands and recognises the pressures faced by many tertiary students which are detailed in the report.
"That's why, in this year's Budget, we allocated $10.5 million over the next three years for the Integrated Therapies Pilot for 18-25 year olds. The initiative, which is part of the Labour-Green Confidence and Supply Agreement, will provide free counselling for those under 25 years old. Work is underway to establish the pilot and it's expected to go live later this year. The pilot will provide valuable information to inform further work in this space."
WHERE TO GET HELP:
If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your local GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.
OR IF YOU NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE ELSE:
• LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 or 09 5222 999 within Auckland (available 24/7)
• SUICIDE CRISIS HELPLINE: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 ,free text 234 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or online chat.
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
• KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757
• SAMARITANS – 0800 726 666.