Auckland University's treatment of mentally ill student 'cold' and 'callous' - Mental Health Foundation

"I feel my situation is very private and I actually felt ashamed to talk to others," the young woman told Newshub.
"I feel my situation is very private and I actually felt ashamed to talk to others," the young woman told Newshub. Photo credit: Getty Images.

The University of Auckland's decision to end a suicidal student from China's enrolment for not telling them about her change in her mental state after she was allegedly raped has been criticised by the Mental Health Foundation.

The young woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, came to New Zealand in April 2015 at 16 and is four years into her pursuing a double degree in science and health science, with one full year left until it is completed.  

But a letter in December notified the student her placement was cut after UoA found out she had made a serious attempt to take her own life, thereby cancelling her visa.  

The 21-year-old told Newshub that her mental health troubles began when she met a man who lured her into sex.  

"It was quite bad as I always living in an unsafe environment. I attempted suicide many times, just wanting the abuse to finish," she said. 

She withheld from Auckland University staff she was dealing with complex issues, despite signing a document which outlined strict enrolment conditions regarding full disclosure of changes to her health. 

"I feel my situation is very private and I actually felt ashamed to talk to others."  

While in a mental health unit in late October last year she was allegedly raped by another patient and tried to take her life a month later. 

She believes UoA was informed by the hospital about the "quite serious" suicide attempt that nearly killed her in November. 

Correspondence she then received dated December 11 and signed by UoA's deputy vice-chancellor Adrienne Clelan stated the events impacted her place as a student.  

"It is clear that there has been a change to the state of your mental health ... and you did not promptly inform the International Office as you were required to do under your Enrolment Conditions," it said. 

"The University has cancelled your Student Agreement for your breach of enrolment conditions, thereby terminating your enrolment."

Mental Health Foundation CEO Shaun Robinson told Newhsub the delivery of the decision was "cold, callous and extremely uncaring".  

"It would have been yet another horrific experience, in a long line of horrific experiences for the young woman involved." 

He believes the university could have "handled this a lot better" but recognises they would have been in a "difficult position". 

"We feel sad and sorry for her, and there are many things in her experience that should never have had happened."

He said the allegation she was raped while in the care of residential mental health care is particularly "horrific and shocking". 

"It just shows how far we have to go in New Zealand to really bring the standard and the quality of our mental health services up to where we want them to be."

Over email two days after she was notified by UoA, INZ told the young woman UoA's decision meant she no longer met the criteria for her student visa and gave her five days to leave New Zealand.

"This is because your visa conditions state that you may study at Auckland University and today that was terminated," the email said.

"You are therefore liable to be served with a deportation liability notice."

The young woman told Newshub that INZ will now allow her to stay until January 22. 

She says she is planning to appeal the decision with the help of the Auckland University Student Association. 

Robinson says he hopes it is considered going forward that foreign students really need "a considerable amount" of pastoral care when studying in New Zealand, particularly around their mental health. 

A spokesperson from the University of Auckland told Newshub the letter advising the student of the termination of her enrolment "...formed a small part of a significant body of correspondence from the University that demonstrates the compassion that has been shown to the student during her time with us.

"We are absolutely confident that this student has been extensively supported and treated with care and compassion for the four years of her enrolment here." 

UoA said the move to terminate the student’s enrolment was not taken lightly.

"It was based on explicit advice from her own medical team who advised that the student was at high risk if she continued to study in New Zealand.

"Our assessment, following meetings and conversations with them and the student’s family, was that exceptional circumstances meant we could not continue to meet our obligations to her."