Government makes good on election promise for 18-25 year olds
Last week, it was announced that the government had dedicated $10.49 million to kickstarting a mental health pilot that would offer free counselling to those between the ages of 18-25.
The news comes in the wake of deeply concerning statistics about mental health among tertiary students, and as a result of the Green Party’s promise of free counselling for those 25 and under that formed a key part of their election campaign.
The New Zealand Herald reported that the tender for this initiative opened to mental health providers last week, allowing such providers to form a proposal.
“The healthcare provider that wins the tender will be responsible for working closely with the Ministry of Health and local healthcare providers, whether that’s the district health board or primary health organisation,” said Associate Health Minister Julie Anne Genter.
Genter also stated that the pilot was intended to allow for action to be taken before an individual’s situation becomes critical.
“Those young people don’t have the money to pay for a private psychologist and the public health system doesn’t respond until things have gotten very serious and critical,” she said. “When someone is willing to hurt themselves that’s when they get intervention so what this programme is aiming to do is to ensure that support is there earlier,” Genter continued.
The pilot is considered to provide a safety net for those who are now outside of the education system; while mental health nurses are intended to be employed in schools, this initiative will provide aid for school-leavers who require access to mental health services.
Furthermore, mental health counselling providers at tertiary institutions have struggled under the weight of a growing demand for their services. It was reported by The Wireless last year that there had been a huge increase in students seeking counselling services, a trend that was reported in many major universities across New Zealand, with waiting times leaving students in need.
The difficulty in meeting university students’ needs has remained problematic in the past few months, with Stuff reporting in June of this year that the Universities New Zealand group believes the situation had become “untenable”, as university counselling services were being used as a “substitute for underfunded community mental health [services].” There is potential that free, proactive counselling for those 18-25 may alleviate some of the strain on these services and provide more timely assistance.
The proactive approach envisioned by this pilot is also reflected in AUSA’s plan to introduce wellness as a concept in every facet of the university, and their creation of a Wellness Week to allow for open discussions about mental illness and struggles students face to take place, before these struggles become insurmountable.
“It’s very pleasing that the government recognises the need for earlier intervention in mental health. Our mental health services cannot continue to only be an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff and it’s heartening that the Government recognises this,” said AUSA Welfare Vice President Luke Kibblewhite.
“Free counselling obviously makes mental health care far more accessible and this investment is to be welcomed.”“As a society we also need to be challenging our culture of not seeking help. This extra investment is to be welcomed but as a society, and particularly as students we need to be working really hard to normalise making use of the mental health resources that are available to us.”
For students who are struggling with financial stress, AUSA offers textbook grants, CAI grants, dental grants, hardship grants and food parcels. More information can be found at ausa.org.nz/support.
The University also offers counselling services for students, and can work with individual students on creating a plan that will best improve their wellbeing. More information can be found on the University of Auckland website under “Student Health and Counselling Service”.
If you or someone you know needs to speak to someone, 0800 LIFELINE and 0508 TAUTOKO offer 24/7 phone counselling.