The national student union says crumbling student finances and overwork are a leading cause of a 24% rise in counselling sessions.
The statistics come from New Zealand’s eight universities, and track the proportion of sessions provided per student between 2009 and 2014.
Three institutions also provided the number of individual students seen, which revealed a 21% increase in the numbers of individual students being seen by counsellors as a proportion of total students on campus.
The data has been released alongside the NZUSA Tertiary Student Income and Expenditure Survey in a report today. The Survey shows that much of the increased anxiety felt by students is being driven by the financial hardship they are experiencing and concerns about debt and job prospects.
More than half of students said that financial stress affects their study (56%) and more than six out of 10 worry about what they will owe when they have finish studying (61.2% up from 58% in 2010).
The findings are consistent with what academics and other tertiary staff say about worsening mental health at universities and polytechnics.
Dr Anne-Marie Brady, a professor of political science at the University of Canterbury says “Students are under massive financial pressure and more students are having documented cases of depression and anxiety which is having a serious impact on their studies. Many students tell me they are exhausted from their paid jobs and they cut classes to recover, miss assignments, or do not fully participate in class.”
Hugh Chesterman from Massey University is one of those students. He says “Last year I was studying full time and worked two days a week but could hardly afford the essentials on top of rent and course-related costs. This year I managed to find two jobs, work 3 - 4 days a week well as studying full time. I haven’t had any free time or free weekends during semester time.
Hugh is like most students who are working more and more hours to cover rising costs like rent. He says “I enjoy jobs and my study but I would like time to relax at least one day a week rather than running myself into the ground through lack of sleep in order to fund my living costs while studying. My mental health is suffering.”
NZUSA President Rory McCourt says poor mental health was becoming the norm for a growing number of students.
“Between constant assessment and increasingly full-time jobs, student are burning the candle at both ends. We’re finding we can’t please our boss, our lecturer and our landlord all at the same time. Something’s got to give.”
However, Mr McCourt cautioned against oversimplifying the reasons for the rise in counselling sessions. He says improved and expanded mental health services at universities capable of seeing more students could also be a driver on some campuses.
The union says the Government could help the situation by raising the incomes of students so they don’t have to rely on unreasonable amounts of paid work to cover the basics. The student allowance is currently $175.10 a week, plus $40 accommodation benefit in the main centres. Most students are ineligible due to parental income or postgraduate status and therefore can only borrow the maximum $176.86 per week.
About the Research:
The NZUSA Tertiary Student Income and Expenditure Survey has been running for 30 years and has a solid reputation. For the latest report 5,000 students were surveyed across the country with a representative sample of universities, polytechnics, internal, distance and age-varied students. The margin of error at the standard 95% confidence level is between 1.36% and 1.94%, depending on the particular question (not all questions were relevant to all participants and therefore the sample size varies across the study).