A petition has been launched calling for an apology from ACT Party leader David Seymour after he apparently said university students with mental health issues should "harden up".
Mr Seymour disputed the Victoria University students' sequence of events, though he has apologised for any offence his comments might have caused.
He was one of a panel of MPs at the university's Weir House halls talking about the growing mental health issues among students who face significant pressure from studies, paid work and extra-curricular activities.
There were a number of reports Mr Seymour said students would have to "harden up" before passing the microphone to another MP.
It led student Sophie Wynn to launch a petition asking for an apology from Mr Seymour and to consider how damaging the comment was to those with mental illness.
However, the party's sole MP believes his comments have been "misreported" and were taken "quite wildly out of context by people with political motivations".
"I answered a quite long question on a range of issues and I said that you should harden up if you're going to blame all of your problems on someone else, then that's not a way to be happy."
He said people face a number of difficult challenges – financial, academic, work – and some who do have mental illness should seek help.
"In the broader context, I said, 'Look, sometimes you have to face up to your challenges and believe in yourself.'"
Mr Seymour said had he been asked directly about mental illness, anxiety and depression, his answer would have been different, "but that's not the question I was asked".
The NZ Union of Students' Associations says between 2009 and 2014, official data from the country's eight universities showed a 24 percent increase of counselling sessions.
At Victoria University, the number of students seeking counselling has increased 44.7 percent in the same period.