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August 6, 2018 | by  | in Mauri Ora |
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Mauri Ora

Mental Health – Two words with a complicated meaning
Mental health is a real buzz phrase these days.
There’s a government enquiry looking at trying to fix a supposedly broken system; NZUSA have released the Kei te pai? Students’ Mental Health report, which paints a concerning picture of high rates of mental illness among students and limited support for them; and there is the Government promise of free counselling for all under 25 year olds. Our own research here at Victoria over a number of years reveals that up to 45% of our students have poor emotional wellbeing – the definition and duration of which is somewhat unclear.
What is mental health? It’s a phrase that’s become associated with illness, stigma, negativity, hopelessness, and social distance. Someone with mental health issues is assumed to be mentally disordered with a specific and permanent label and highly likely to be taking medication. Is that all true?

There are increasing numbers of mental health advocates, consumers, and professionals calling for a paradigm shift in how we view and talk about mental illness. This includes moving away from medical and illness metaphors and embracing the idea that we all have mental health – and that that’s a good thing! We need to start using phrases like feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and distressed – rather than mentally unwell or having a nervous breakdown. We need to move towards a sense of inclusion, using real life language and looking at creating more supportive environments including here on campus.
We should be normalising the reality of stress and distress, and therefore implying that it happens to all of us. Most of what we call mental illnesses are in fact challenging emotional states that come and go, and respond really well to support, caring, and non judgemental attitudes. Yes we need more accessible health and counselling services, but they will not shift the paradigm on their own. This needs deliberate intention, and a change in thinking from us all.

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