Mental ill-health shouldn’t be a competition, but the way we get support for it suggests otherwise.
In these times of long lockdowns, we are hearing of students whose mental health has deteriorated. When reaching out for the bare minimum of academic support, such as applying for Aegrotat or Compassionate Consideration, students are first faced with needing to evaluate whether or not their condition is worth the application fee. Someone’s always got it worse though, you think. Or it’s just simply not worth the hassle; the process can be demeaning, exhausting, and stressful.
This approach isn’t unique to the University. Aotearoa suffers a lack of mental health care resources, leaving our precious mental health professionals as ambulances at the bottom of the cliff. In our experience with public mental health care, as soon as you aren’t at risk of harming yourself or others, you are no longer a patient at a service provider. Rather than allowing our mauri to flourish, mental health care is about survival, if not about lip service. When people are turned away or put off from care because of reasons of cost, access, or that they don’t present with conventional symptoms of ill health, that is how we lose over 600 people across the nation a year to suicide.
Needing to compete for support harbours the harmful mythology that struggling as a student is natural and that non-suicidal thoughts are not worth intervening. But the more we invalidate feelings and issues that deserve acknowledgement, the deeper the hole we dig for ourselves. Generationally, young people’s grievances are undermined by Facebook uncles calling us snowflakes. It is not necessarily that generations above us did not suffer, but we do believe that today we suffer different issues for which we have no simple solutions and literacies. Our ability to be sensitive and articulate about our feelings is no doubt a productive thing as well.
Unfortunately for our students, the University of Auckland leaves a lot to be desired in terms of meaningful support for mental health. While a lot of money is pumped into wellbeing and pastoral care teams, and they are staffed by well-meaning individuals, I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone that a 30-minute Zoom yoga session doesn’t address the inequities and isolation of remote learning. On that end, it is only the Senior Leadership team who can front up, and boy, have they failed.
Despite persistent campaigning by AUSA, and student petitioning, in one fell swoop, the University has rejected: a universal grade bump, fees-free retake, fees-free aegrotat and compassionate consideration. Essentially, name anything short of credit card transactions at Campus Store, and they’ll reject it.
In all seriousness though, these decisions may not have been a surprise to some people. The University has made it known before that they do not want to see the universal grade bump return, likely due to its impact on postgraduate scholarships. However, when it gets to this level of bargaining for removing administration fees on Aegrotat or Compassionate Consideration applications, it would be fundamentally misunderstanding the issues to say students are wanting to be graded in a lenient manner.
Students just want genuine acknowledgement for turbulent times. Until meaningful consultation is able to take place, there is a lot left to be desired in terms of mental health support for students.
Brian Gu (he/him) & Eda Tang (she/her)
Co-editors of Craccum 2021
CW: This issue is themed around mental health and mentions topics including suicide, depression, and drug-use. Please read at your own discretion and if this brings upon any distress or difficult feelings, talk to a professional or someone you trust.
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