Mental health was defining issue of the 2017 OUSA elections, with every presidential candidate promising better funding and support.
Unity 2018’s Mission Statement included a promise to “ensure best health” by partnering with the university to establish a ‘Wellness Centre’, which would be “a one-stop shop for mental and physical wellbeing initiatives”. Caitlin Barlow-Groome and Alex McKirdy both praised the Silverline initiative. Angus Wilson said that “It’s not OUSA’s job to be providing mental health services. It should be the university. It’s a student union’s job to hold them to account and to hold them to a certain level of quality, because it’s getting worse and it’s something we as a student body have to do something about.” Monique Mulholland put mental health and sexual violence at the forefront of her campaign, and repeatedly attacked a Student Health policy, which she said, “gives you six counselling sessions and then you’re totally cut off”. Counselling being cut off at six sessions was also labelled as a problem by several other candidates throughout the campaign.
Richard Mooney, Clinical Group Leader for Mental Health and Wellbeing at Student Health Services (SHS) confirmed the policy, but said that some candidates may have misrepresented it.
“We do work on a six sessional basis with our counselling appointments at SHS. The reason for this is largely around equity of access for students. Given the numbers of students trying to access the University of Otago’s Student Health Counselling Service, we felt that a limited number of sessions was the only way to ensure equal availability for all students wishing to attend counselling. Often two to three sessions are enough.”
However, he insisted that “It would not be correct to say we ‘cut students off’ after six sessions”. He says that “as a rule of thumb it is six counselling sessions per year,” but that students can book for a same day appointment as required regardless of how many previous sessions they had had that year.
Student Health also have a process which gives counsellors the discretion to extend beyond six sessions, “If it looks as though a brief extension beyond six sessions will be sufficient to meet the student’s needs, we make a decision from there about additional sessions, how many etc. If it is apparent the student will need long term therapy, then we look at external referral and we will work with the student to find an appropriate service to meet their needs.”