The national student union says comments by ACT Party leader David Seymour should be withdrawn given the verifiable explosion of stress and anxiety experienced by New Zealand’s tertiary students.
Mr Seymour’s curt advice was given at Victoria University’s Weir House halls of residence last night on the issue of growing mental health issues amongst students, many of whom are under significant pressure from studies, paid work and pilling extra-curricular expectations.
According to multiple reports of the event, Mr Seymour said students would have to “harden up” and passed the microphone down the panel of MPs.
The remarks have led one of the students taken aback by Mr Seymour’s remarks, Sophie Wynn, to launch a petition asking for an apology. Miss Wynn calls on Mr Seymour to “consider how harmful” his comments were to “those who struggle with mental illness”.
National student president Rory McCourt says official data released by New Zealand’s universities shows Mr Seymour’s dismissive approach is out of step with evidence on the issue.
“Between 2009 and 2014 New Zealand’s eight universities experienced a 24 per cent increase in counselling sessions. At Victoria University, where Mr Seymour spoke, the number of individual students being seen by the counselling service has jumped 44.7% in the same time, to 2,139 students last year.”
Mr McCourt says the reason for the near-universal rise in counselling sessions is in-part down to increased levels of stress and anxiety. This was confirmed in the union’s recent Income and Expenditure Survey which showed longer paid working hours and mounting debt were taking a toll on students’ mental wellbeing. University recognition of the issue through more available sessions was a good thing and students across the country say they value access to timely, affordable mental health services on campus.
Mr McCourt says Mr Seymour should spend some time on campus with students and ask them about the impact of rising rents, longer working hours and unsustainable academic pressure on their studies and mental health.
“I think we’re risking creating a generation of highly-strung graduates. With rises in counselling sessions on almost all campuses, this is a real issue. We're disappointed Mr Seymour has taken this approach despite the evidence. The data suggests this is a growing problem.”
“How bad does it have to get for politicians to take the deteriorating mental health of our students seriously?”
Student Counselling Sessions League Table:
|Institution||Sessions in 2009||Sessions in 2014||Change (+/-)
|Student enrolment Change (+/-)|
|The University of Auckland||1,215||2,139||397%||10%|
|The University of Otago||4600||5772||25%||-0.02|
|Victoria University of Wellington||5729||6982||22%||-8%|
|University of Canterbury||2617||3035||16%||-20%