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October 15, 2018 | by  | in News |
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Chloe Has a Yarn About Mental Health

Green Party MP Chlöe Swarbrick partnered with VUWSA to host a hui on Friday afternoon, where students and faculty shared their experiences with mental health and discussed ways to improve campus resources.
The Green Party recently assigned Swarbrick to the mental health portfolio. In the past, she’s been open about her personal struggle with mental illness, and now she’s gathering direct input from students about the challenges and flaws of Vic’s mental health services.
“I see my psychologist regularly. I have a history of anxiety and depression,” she said to Health Central. “I’m the one-in-six New Zealand adults who has been diagnosed with a common mental disorder at some point in their lives.”
Students at the hui were invited to speak at an open mic, while the problems they raised were recorded on one white board. Possible solutions to these problems were written on an adjacent whiteboard. These testimonies come after the Green Party’s Confidence and Supply Agreement, which guarantees free access to mental healthcare for university students and those under 25.
Many of the student speakers said that they faced long wait times before they could get an appointment at Student Health, including one student who waited two months for a counseling session. Other speakers suggested that this could be the result of a lack of staff member availability, or that staff members can be on holiday at inconvenient times.
Other students said they felt pushed towards medication when they needed additional counselling. Some felt that the side effects of prescribed medicines weren’t fully discussed, leading to major distress and disruptions in treatment. Student Health Manager Gerard Hoffman attended the hui and says that in order to truly make services more effective, the government needs to fund programs that meet individual needs.
“Many students get overwhelmed and very anxious and distressed, but a relatively brief and timely input of skilled support can make a huge difference. And then there is a smaller group who really need regular and ongoing care and counselling and medical care who have much more serious mental ill health,” Hoffman said.
According to many of the speakers, the way we treat mental illness in an academic environment is crucial to solving the problem. Looking at mental illness through a eurocentric lens can exclude racial minorities from the conversation, and often negative stigmas surrounding the topic keep people from speaking openly about their struggles.
Swarbrick knows that open conversation is an important step towards addressing the prevalence of mental illness.
“I will fight tooth and nail for this,” she said. “I will end my career on delivering this stuff.”

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