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May 11, 2014 | by  | in News |
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An Interview with Student Health

Last Tuesday, Salient sat down with Student Health’s new Intake Counsellor, Linda Robertson, as well as Gerard Hoffman, the Manager of Student Counselling, and Rachel Riedel, Victoria’s Wellbeing Educator, to have a chat about the changing role of the service.

LINDA: At the moment I am seeing approximately 24 students a week. Tuesdays, I haven’t got clients at the moment. [On Tuesday afternoons] I am researching all the different agencies and options available to students that might meet their needs so I can help students when they come in.

The purpose for me and the client in that session is to hear about what’s going on for the student, and figure out what are some first steps or resources that might be useful for the student. So they have something that they can either take away and hopefully make use of, or we might equip the student with new strategies that they haven’t really thought of. Or other services that the University offers, either in place of further counselling, or to go alongside their counselling.

Hopefully, by the end of a 30-minute session, the student is leaving with some kind of an action plan.

With the student, we will figure out if counselling is going to be the most useful thing from here, or will one of the group programmes that we offer be a better first step, or is there one of the Student Learning Support things that they could pick up. It’s just trying to figure out what is going to give the student the best resourcing or options that might help them.

For the first few weeks, Linda has just been dealing with backlog. What we are assuming is that it is much better for a student to meet someone within the first couple of days, even if it is just for 30 mins or something, than wait up to six weeks to see somebody. And the early evidence is that it is exactly true. They are coming in and getting a hearing getting some initial solutions.

A big chunk of people coming in are coming in due to stress and anxiety. On day one of the return to University, 25 people approached Student Health looking for counselling.

LINDA: Because I have been catching up on the backlog, I have been booked out for quite  a long time in advance. However, that is shifting now and as of this week, it’s pretty much one to three days. Everyone who came in yesterday [last Monday] has an appointment with me this week.

Gerard: We haven’t been in that position for years. That’s fantastic.

GERARD: It’s about how much of our resource we are pitching towards a very immediate response. So we have got a bit under ten full-time equivalent counsellors, and at the moment we have about 25 per cent of them who are same-day available. 75 per cent of our resources is for follow-up. That for me is a reasonable balance. If you think about an ED equivalent, if all you have is EDs then people wouldn’t be getting their non-urgent but important health needs met.

GERARD: We were the only service that got extra money out of the Levy this year from last year. And I think that was a little bit arbitrary; I think you could have equally justified giving more money to some of the other services. Student Finance do a hell of a good job with quite a small chunk of resource. Every health service has this dilemma. This has given us the chance to do something innovative without having to cut from somewhere else in our team. If we had more, we would do something with it.

I think we also have to look at how we are relatively funded compared to other unis. And we are very well-funded. I think we have been incredibly well-supported by the University. If we got more funding, then we would probably look to do a bit more for Linda’s role.

RACHEL: My job is to look at an organisation and go, how can I promote wellbeing here? How do we promote wellbeing in a way that is easy and simple, because most students and staff are time-poor?

I have a student wellbeing group. Basically, I coordinate the group but students come up with the ideas. We wanted to create awareness that taking time out for yourself is really important. So we are doing Student Wellbeing Week [this week].

Part of what we are doing is a common language around wellbeing, so everyone knows what we are talking about. Well here are seven steps that we stick to. Lecturers, here is a slide you can use about self-care.

I think wellbeing is everyone’s business. I see wellbeing-promotion as part of the broader of what is going on around us. If you look at wellbeing on a spectrum, then I think we have a lot of students in the middle. My aim is to shift them from average wellbeing to above-average wellbeing. We get wellbeing scores as part of the Student Experience Survey. Over time I would like to see a shift in terms of that. That’s the hope.

GERARD: I have seen some really powerful facts that say that a massive amount of our funding gets put towards the elderly. Most young people are not accessing physical-health high-cost care, for obvious reasons. They are also the group that is most impacted by mental health. Yet a tiny part of the health budget goes to mental health. Arguably, we are seeing people who have massive mental-health needs. They don’t have physical-health needs. The Government has increased in the last decade the amount of money that goes towards youth mental health. They are big into youth. But we don’t quite fit into youth [too old, 12–18]. Our students miss out, to some degree. There are any number of psychologists these days. But they charge upwards of $150 an hour, which is out of the reach of most of us. It’s an issue, but we are doing better than we ever had. We have chosen to focus on our community. Our job is not to make students feel better today, it is to give students the capacity to live through life. That is what is going to give them happy lives, not getting a degree.


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