Content warning: discussions of suicide
Information released to the New Zealand Herald following an OIA request has indicated that at least eleven university students have died as a result of suicide in New Zealand since the year 2015. The deaths of these students ranged across institutions, disciplines and year levels.
The release of these statistics follows closely in the wake of a report by the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations that surveyed close to 2000 students about their university experience, and its impact upon their mental health. It was found that 56% of university students consider dropping out as a result of mental illness or the overwhelming fear or failure. Respondents noted the absence of a sense of community, and financial pressures as keenly detrimental to their mental wellbeing.
“It is something we need to be taking far more seriously as a nation, but also as a university,” noted AUSA President Anna Cusack. “One thing we are working with the university on is the need to put a greater emphasis on wellbeing, and how to bring wellbeing into every facet of the university,” Cusack continued, acknowledging that pressures to achieve at a tertiary level often circumvent students’ ability to prioritise their mental health.
“We need to be working with the university on a more proactive approach, and directing people in the right direction [towards mental health services] at the early stage”, said AUSA’s Welfare Vice-President Luke Kibblewhite. AUSA is currently working with the university on a three-year plan to improve mental health and wellbeing among students, recognising that they are a point of contact for students to begin finding the resources to improve their university experience.
An upcoming Wellness Week organised by AUSA will occur earlier in the semester than the twice annual Stress Less Week, to take a more proactive approach to wellbeing among students before study and exam stress takes hold. “A big goal of the week is to destigmatise discussions around mental health”, explained Kibblewhite. “We’re quite good at talking about mental health in the abstract, or about the ways it affects other people, but a focus of this Wellness Week will be a push towards normalising [conversations around mental health].”
The Wellness Week will centre around the “five ways to wellbeing” devised by the Mental Health Foundation.
For students who are struggling with financial stress, AUSA offers textbook grants, CAI grants, dental grants, hardship grants and food parcels. More information can be found at ausa.org.nz/support.
The University also offers counselling services for students, and can work with individual students on creating a plan that will best improve their wellbeing. More information can be found on the University of Auckland website under “Student Health and Counselling Service”.
If you or someone you know needs to speak to someone, 0800 LIFELINE and 0508 TAUTOKO offer 24/7 phone counselling.