Mental-health hub set up for students at university

Claire Gallop
Claire Gallop
An increase in mental health issues in the community has prompted the University of Otago to establish a wellness hub for students.

Work has begun on a central hub, which will be based in the Information Services Building, next to the Central Library, and it is hoped the government-funded project will be up and running by the end of this year.

Student services director Claire Gallop said the hub would serve as a "warm and welcoming space" where students could be connected to whatever support needed.

"Demand for mental-health support has increased markedly throughout New Zealand in recent years, across all age groups.

"This could be attributed to a variety of factors, including greater awareness and destigmatisation of mental-health issues, and the impact of Covid-19.

"Seeking help for mental-health concerns is also becoming more socially acceptable.

"The university is proactively responding to these trends by establishing the student wellbeing hub, demonstrating our commitment to supporting the mental health and overall wellbeing of our students."

The university already provided pastoral care, but now there would be a physical place to deliver that in a "systematic, holistic way" for all students.

"The hub will be staffed by a trained team of Hauora and peer connectors, and will regularly host staff from other services, including from the Pacific Islands Centre Te Huka Mātauraka, International Student Support, the Disabilities Office, Student Health Services Mental Health Team and the Careers Development Office."

It would be a multipurpose space that could work for private face-to-face meetings, group activities, socialising, studying or relaxing as needed.

"It’s important that this hub signals to students that seeking support is central to the tertiary education experience, and that the university places it physically, as well as metaphorically, at the heart of life on campus."

The hub’s location on campus was also crucial.

"There’s evidence that student hubs work best when they’re in high-traffic areas.

"The Information Services Building houses the library, support services, cafes, and student common spaces, and it also acts as a corridor for students getting to their classes.

"It really is right in the heart of the Dunedin campus."

The government-funded initiative aims to expand frontline mental health and wellbeing services at tertiary education institutes to help students manage ongoing stresses related to Covid-19.