Rising demand for student mental health services

Student support services at the University of Otago are dealing with an increasing number of students experiencing mental health issues, including an increase in suicides this year.

There have been six suspected suicides involving students this year and about half of those seeking support from the Otago University Students' Association (OUSA) were there for mental health issues.

OUSA student support manager Sage Burke said there had been a surge in demand for student mental health services in the past two years.

In response, the support service had hired more staff with backgrounds in social work, psychology and education to provide the support students needed.

Two issues had been identified as possible reasons for the increase, he said.

Otago University Students' Association student support manager Sage Burke says an increasing...
Otago University Students' Association student support manager Sage Burke says an increasing number of students have come to the support service for help with serious mental health issues in the past two years. PHOTO PETER MCINTOSH

Young people with mental health issues were now more comfortable asking for help, but also, the pressure on students continued to increase.

``We all know about the housing crisis, financial pressures and the job market; all of those things were lumped on top of the pressures of university study.''

Social media also meant many students were removed from genuine person-to-person connections, which was one of the most important aspects of keeping healthy, he said.

Each student who used the support service was asked about their overall wellbeing, not just those who sought the service for mental health issues.

The university also offered support services to students, through its Student Health service.

WellSouth Otago and Southland suicide prevention co-ordinator Paul Martin said the organisation worked closely with university and its service providers, both after a death and on resources for those who worked with students.

``We work alongside them and advise them, where appropriate, and provide resources such as suicide prevention training and other services.''

The reasons for suicide could be multiple and complex, so there was no one particular factor in why people decided to kill themselves. he said.

Mr Martin encouraged anyone who felt vulnerable to seek help.

Earlier this year a student-led project, Silverline Otago, was set up to raise awareness of mental health issues on campus.

University of Otago volunteer centre co-ordinator Sze-En Watts said the project was not a service but a group focused on removing the stigma around, and increasing the awareness of, mental health issues students faced.

It was set up as a response not to the increasing number of students needing help, but to students asking for a movement on campus that highlighted the issue and was run by them.

There were already a number of well-run mental health services students could turn to and Silverline complemented those, Ms Watts said.

In September, the group organised a festival that aimed to expose students to ways of wellbeing, and it has also held ``pop-up'' stalls to help students de-stress during the exam period.


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