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July 30, 2018 | by  | in News Splash |
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Mental Health Crisis in Halls on the Rise

CW: Self harm and suicide attempts
*names of RAs have been changed for anonymity

Statistics of self-harm incidents and suicide attempts in Victoria University’s halls have more than doubled in the last five years, from nine incidents in 2013 to 20 incidents in 2017 (note that these statistics only reflect incidents which have been reported and recorded. Students are not required to report incidents).
Alex*, an RA, said they were “not that surprised” by the statistics. In their hall, there have been three or four self harm or attempted suicide incidents this year already.
An earlier Salient article has reported that training for Residential Assistants has decreased from five weeks to three this year. RAs have reported feeling underprepared for a crisis situation. Alex said that after training, they were left “very scared about encountering these incidents”.
Sam, an RA at Te Puni hall for the year of 2017, said the lack of training predated this year. “We spent 3 hours in a talking circle talking about what [mental health crises] looked like, but not much about what to do when someone comes to you with a problem. In a lot of cases, there was rarely any hands-on training about what to do”.
The Director of Student and Campus Living, Rainsforth Dix, reported that from 2013-2017, RAs were the first person on the scene of a mental health crisis situation about 50% of the time. Sam said that “the estimate is way off. In pretty much every serious incident I know of, RAs have been the first person on the scene”.
Alex said in their hall, incidents generally happen at night, when RAs are often the only staff rostered on. They weren’t aware of any incidents in their hall that were managed by the Student Support co-ordinator or the hall manager. If there were, they said, “we wouldn’t get told about it”.
Dix justified the cuts in training, saying that “the key role of RAs is to engage students in community life, not to manage issues and incidents. Decisions made following the review have shifted responsibility for incident management back to senior staff”.
In a crisis situation, Dix recommends that RAs report to upper management such as the Student Support Coordinator or the hall manager.
Alex disputed Dix’s statement that RAs are not responsible for managing issues and incidents. “But then — what is our job?” they said. “We’re rostered on for 16-24 hours overnight, we’re the only ones there to respond [to incidents].”
While some nights there are Night Managers on duty, the Night Manager’s job is more akin to that of a security guard, managing drunk students and kicking out guests.
According to Sam, the SSC is only onsite “two days a week, whereas the RA is there seven days a week”. Not only are RAs often the first response, they said, but they also take on the role of the extended care staff, as they plan to accommodate and aid students who are struggling with their mental health throughout the year.
The training provided to RAs also recommends calling CATT (Wellington Crisis Management Team) when situations related to mental health arise. Reportedly, CATT has been an unreliable solution. “[CATT] didn’t wanna deal with [a suicide attempt] because the person had been drinking,” said Sam. “They said I had to call an ambulance, which was 45 minutes away”.
RAs have been warned not to talk to media. After Salient published a piece about the reduction in training times earlier this year, RAs got “a stern talking to” and were warned not to talk to us. “Fearing your job’s gonna go is kind of awful,” said Alex.

Where to Get Help

Free call or text 1737 anytime for support from a trained counsellor

Safe to Talk (sexual violence) – 0800 044 334 or text 4334
Lifeline – 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP)
Youthline (for youth) – 0800 376 633 or free text 234
Outline (LGBTQIA+) – 0800 688 5463

Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

Healthline – 0800 611 116 to talk to a registered nurse

Samaritans – 0800 726 666

Depression Helpline – 0800 111 757

Anxiety New Zealand 0800 269 4389 (0800 ANXIETY)

The Lowdown NZ (for youth) — free text 5626 or visit

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