Students demand better access to mental health services

Students are warning the Government they need an urgent boost to mental health services, or risk becoming a generation of forgotten youth.

Hundreds of students are expected to march on Parliament this Wednesday, calling for the Government to publicly fund mental health services on tertiary campuses.

Victoria University of Wellington Student Association president Marlon Drake is leading the march, and told Newshub action is needed now.

"It's got to the point now where students aren't seeking counselling for two reasons: first of all because of the wait times, and secondly they feel like they don't feel bad enough to warrant going and taking someone else's place.

"I think the whole country needs to be working together, pull back the stigma of asking for help - not only that, but peeling back the stigma of actually giving help as well. We need to be a country that cares, and most importantly we need to get rid of this absolutely [bullshit] toughen-up attitude."

According to a recent New Zealand Union of Students' Associations survey, more than half of students are considering leaving tertiary study due to the stresses of living with mental illness and a fear of failing.

Newshub put the proposal to the Health Minister, but David Clark wouldn't commit to the idea.

"Our priority is to make sure that mental health services are provided across the community, not where they're housed. We've already announced a pilot for 18-25-year-olds that will provide integrated counselling therapies. That's new, but it's where we know that there's a high need. So we're wanting to see that succeed so more people in the 18-25-year-old bracket have access to free counselling."

Tamatha Paul is a student at Victoria University, and believes the minister's attitude is dismissive.

"It doesn't sound like he's taking it seriously. [Students] are waiting six to eight weeks to get an appointment - usually when they're making an appointment it's in a crisis, so by the time they get to see a counsellor it's often too late.

"We're putting so many thousands of dollars into our education. It's a competitive environment in some cases - there's a lot of pressure. We're a particular group within the 18-25-year-old bracket that should be targeted."

National mental health spokesperson Matt Doocey agrees more help needs to be available for students.

"I agree with the sentiment universities need more resource. When you look at the recent report published by the New Zealand Union of Students' Associations, it clearly outlines the need for counselling - not only that, the skilling-up for academic and more general staff to help them understand more about mental issues. When you look at those two things, there's definitely a need."

Students will march on Parliament on Wednesday, August 22.

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