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March 18, 2019 | by  | in Homepage News Splash |
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Piki Brings Four Counsellors to Victoria, One to Massey

A pilot government programme could see a significant boost to counselling services at Wellington universities, adding capacity for an extra 1000 students to access mental health care on Victoria University’s campus.

Salient understands that the programme—called Piki (“to support” or “to ascend”)—will see $10.5 million spent in the Wellington region over the next 2.5 years, starting in January. It will increase Victoria University’s full-time equivalent (FtE) counsellors by 3.7, from 9.5 to 13.5.

The pilot programme targets 18 to 25-year-olds living in the greater Wellington region, which includes Wellington, Kapiti, Hutt, Wairarapa, and Porirua.

“It’s not a silver bullet, but it’s a good structural pou or grounding for us to work around,” said VUWSA President Tamatha Paul.

She, with the VUWSA executive and many students, lobbied for government funding at the end of the 2018 school year, with on-campus mental health hui and The Wait is Over campaign.

“We got what we wanted essentially […] I’m fucking happy and it just reiterates in my mind the power of student activism, the power of speaking up,” Paul said.

Mauri Ora, Massey Student Health, and Tū Ora Compass Health, one of New Zealand’s leading public health organisations (PHO), are implementing the pilot at Victoria and Massey over the next two and a half years.

According to Mauri Ora manager Gerard Hoffman, VUW has already employed four clinicians, who are training under the university model of mental health care. These ‘Piki Counsellors’ will work exclusively with domestic and NZAID students between the ages of 18 and 25.  

Last year, Angus Shaw, who is currently taking a semester off university, had to seek counselling through Primary Solutions because the waitlist was too long.

“I think it’s great that the uni is finally taking steps to care about students’ mental health.”

“Because Vic has a significant percentage of the 18 to 25 population locally and because of the unique and challenging context of tertiary study, Compass [Tū Ora] has included us as a Piki partner,” said Hoffman. According to Tū Ora, this percentage could be as high as 30%.

Pam Thorburn, Director of Student Academic Services, told Salient that Tū Ora and Mauri Ora are co-designing tailored programmes with Māori and Pasifika input.

“The university will be working with Māori, Pasifika, LGBTQIA+ and takatāpui, and other parts of the university community to ensure programmes are accessible to those who don’t traditionally access mental health services,” said Thorburn.

Along with face-to-face services, students who go through Piki counsellors will use an online emotional wellness app, developed by Melon Health. The application aims to better understand individual needs and to supply digital resources like peer support and links to alternate therapy options.

The pilot will also include group sessions and connections to other existing services such as Homecare Medical’s national Telehealth services.

“It’s incredibly good to be able to provide some positive news given the work done over many years by VUWSA, students and the University,” said Hoffman.

Over the weekend, VUWSA held a wānanga in Island Bay, providing an opportunity for the large range of people involved with mental health campaigning at VUW to come together and identify what mental health looks like in their community at the moment.

“We wanted to keep going with the essence of The Wait is Over by bringing in students to be able to shape what we’re doing this year with the kaupapa of mental health,” said Paul.

Piki has also brought change to Massey University, who have gone from 3.2 to 4.2 FtE counsellors.

Piki is under ongoing development, but the pilot will see an official university launch alongside government ministers and MPs in April.

If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, you can contact these organisations for support:


Helpline: Free call or text 1737

Mauri Ora Student Health: 04 463 5308

Wellington Accident and Urgent Medical Centre: 04 384 4944

Call 111 in an emergency


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