Despite working on a Suicide Prevention Framework for over a year, the Healthy University Advisory Group (HUAG) have decided to replace it with a ‘Wellbeing Matrix’. A framework is basically a set of ideas and principles about how something should work (so, how suicide could be prevented, theoretically), whereas a matrix is just a cool way of saying ‘network’. Both of these imply that they are a guideline of some sort, as opposed to a policy that mandates what people should or shouldn’t do.
HUAG made this change from suicide prevention to general wellbeing when they learned that district health boards around the country begun developing their own regional suicide prevention policies. The Southern District Healthboard are developing their policy through the ‘WellSouth Primary Health Network’. As the University of Otago is a key stakeholder in the community, HUAG believes it makes more sense to feed into a regional policy rather than develop their own.
However, local and central Government policies around suicide prevention do not render a University policy or framework obsolete. The Victoria University of Wellington launched a “Responding to Suicidal Behaviour by Students” policy in 2014 while central Government had their own strategy. Their policy “of assertive and compassionate response[s] to any form of suicidal behaviour by students and hall residents” aims to identify students at risk and provide “earlier and more effective intervention and support following any suicidal behaviour”.
Jason Cushen, the chair of HUAG, does not see the Wellbeing Matrix as a “shift away” from suicide prevention, but rather a “different approach” to tackling overall wellbeing, for staff as well as students.
When asked if he saw worth in the University of Otago having their own prevention strategy for students, like Victoria University, Cushen repeated that it made “more sense” for HUAG to focus on overall wellbeing if there is going to be a regional strategy. He denied the suggestion that this was the University shifting responsibility from themselves to the public health system.
Critic asked a bunch of students what, if any, role the University has to play in supporting the mental health of its students. There was a consensus that the Uni has a “significant” role, as much of the stress students face are, in part, caused by studies.
Another, who is a Residental Assistant, said that it was important to offer services, especially in halls, as RAs are “on the frontline” of their students’ mental health support. A University spokesperson said that there is no current demand for such a service.
Cushen believes that the University already “is doing a lot of great stuff” and collectively “adds up to quite a comprehensive service and support network”. This network is spread throughout many different parts of the University, including Student Health, Colleges, OUSA Student Support,Te Whare Tāwharau and the Proctor’s office.
Cushen hopes to hand over this Matrix to the Vice-Chancellor and her advisory group for further action. It’s “up to her what she does with it”, though he says he does not intend to let it “sit in the bottom drawer”.