As a student, you have a lot of freedom. Your work week is often flexible, you can skip classes, you have StudyLink to get you through the tight patches. But it can also be the most awful time when you have no power to get any resources you might need. When you’re still learning about your rights. When your peers are people in the same situations as you.
Last year, I worked a lot. I was a fulltime third year student at university, trying to keep good grades, with a few casual jobs, a lot of volunteer responsibilities, a tonne of rent to pay each week, and internships in my spare time. I had fun too, but often found that my anxiety and stress was affecting even the fun parts of my week. I went through a few things and I came to a point where I made a decision that I wanted to go to counselling.
My decision was partly informed by the fact that I knew a few of my friends were either wanting to go to counselling or in counselling already. But like many of my friends, I found it so hard to access. Counselling is a lot of numbers. Whether it’s prices or statistics, or a shit tonne of self-help phone numbers. There were also the hours and hours I spent scrolling online, filling out forms, reading self-diagnoses, and wondering how one possibly chooses a mentor for one’s life problems. I wasn’t suicidal, just sad and stressed. I was managing, but I needed help.
There is a critical shortage of mental health support services for tertiary students. Most private counselling services can cost $90-$140 per session. As such, they are out of reach for most. I made the decision to apply for university health services – free, but notoriously difficult to access. Students in 2017 were waiting up to 6 weeks for even an email reply to schedule an appointment.
This is not to discredit the people working hard in these roles to make sure that zillions of students are taken care of everyday. But making sure students are healthy while they study should be a higher priority for tertiary institutions. Because there are so many hoops to jump through in order to access support, young people are having to manage day-to-day on top of studies, jobs, volunteer work, family, and social lives.
There is a growing movement online to create more conversation about how we are doing – how we are actually doing. But I find these conversations don’t always transfer well to real life discussions between friends and family. The intention of our current government is to implement free counselling for under 25s. It’s something that is sorely needed for students and all young people today. But systems are already struggling under the volumes of those in need. How will they cope when that volume rises even more?
Counselling is kind of like taking time out from your life to attend self-help tutorials just on how to live. But life actually is fucking difficult sometimes, which is why health support services are so important. This conversation is not new, but it is a new tertiary year, and as such, it is important to highlight the issue again.
Because one thing’s for sure: as we quickly hurtle through the trimester towards exams, there are going to be a lot of stressed students. It’s time that talk turned into action, so that no student has to suffer alone.
In the multitude of numbers that you scroll past, here’s a few really helpful ones.
Crisisline: 0508 828 865 (0800 TAUTOKO)
Youthline: 0800 367 633 (or free text 234)
Lifeline: 0800 543 354
For help breathing: https://www.grc.com/breathe.htmSupport Villainesse