There is help for when uni life gets hard

Richard Mooney. Photo: Christine O'Connor
Richard Mooney. Photo: Christine O'Connor
It is Orientation Week at the University of Otago. Reporter Molly Houseman puts the questions to people first-year students may come across as they navigate life in tertiary education. Today she catches up with Otago University Student Health Services mental health and wellbeing clinical group leader Richard Mooney.

What services do Student Health offer in the way of mental health and wellbeing?

We offer a robust integrated primary mental health service with a variety of different options for support available to our students.

We typically offer 15 to 20 same-day appointments with one of our experienced clinicians each day.

These initial appointments are free of charge and an opportunity to discuss the student’s issues, try to resolve them, and develop a collaborative plan of support if necessary. Referral options available in house include appointments with one of our wellbeing counsellors, clinical psychologists, GPs or our consultant psychiatrist.

If a student needs support or intervention beyond what we provide in a primary health care setting, we will continue to support them by making a referral to the service most appropriate to their needs.

How is it different to see a member of the university mental health and wellbeing team rather than an independent clinician?

The main difference is that the services we offer are low-cost and accessible compared with services on offer elsewhere, which are often expensive and have long wait times. Additionally, our team has a comprehensive understanding of the university system so can give advice specific to a student’s experience.

What can students come to you for?

If any student has concerns about how they are feeling and believe that it would be helpful to come in and be seen, then we would encourage them to make an appointment.

Why did you become a mental health professional?

To be honest I sort of drifted into it.

I was aware quite early on in life that people tended to feel comfortable confiding in me and that I felt comfortable helping them with whatever they were struggling with. I am one of those people that strangers would seem drawn to and sit next to on the bus to talk about their troubles.

Once it became clear that I had absolutely no musical talent, I started to contemplate my options; a caring profession that did not involve dealing with bodily fluids felt like the right choice for me.

I have the privilege of talking to people about their lives and trying to help them in whatever way I can each and every day. I have never regretted my career choice and I thoroughly enjoy my job.

What are some general mental health tips you can offer students?

It is normal to experience a range of emotions, to struggle at times and to experience failure and setbacks so we can learn from them, and the first couple of years at university can provide a multitude of challenges.

Students can thrive by focusing on maintaining the basics, trying new experiences, developing good supports, remembering to do things that make them happy or add value to their lives, and acting early to get support when things become a bit too much.

How can students organise an appointment?

Phone us or pop in and ask one of our helpful reception team to make an appointment.

This year we have extended our weekday opening hours to 8.30pm.

What would you say to students who are apprehensive about seeking help?

It can be daunting to come in and bare your soul to a relative stranger, but to use a cliche: your health is your wealth.

If ... you find yourself struggling, then bite the bullet and make an appointment.

If coming in by yourself is too daunting, bring a mate or a support person. If it is still too daunting, then make an appointment with one of our fabulous GPs or nurses who can provide treatment, and talk to you more about the supports we can offer and how the service works.


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