300,000 students to benefit from free mental health services

  • Hon Chris Hipkins
Education Health

The Government is expanding and accelerating frontline mental health and wellbeing services at tertiary education institutes (TEI) to help students manage ongoing stresses related to COVID-19.

“The lockdown has been hugely disruptive for students. Many of them have had to relocate and move to online learning, isolating them from their peers and tutors,” Education and Health Minister Chris Hipkins said.

“Mental health is a priority for this Government, and it’s never been more important to ensure that our young people have access to the help they need it, when they need it.

“That’s why we are investing $25 million to boost mental health support for tertiary students. The funding builds on the existing roll out of free primary mental health and wellbeing services for 18-25 year olds including the Piki programme in Wellington and programmes at Auckland and Canterbury Universities.”

A Request for Proposals (RFP) process led by the Ministry of Health will get underway from November to select services to deliver the support.

“Local health providers will need to work with tertiary education providers to develop a proposal that best suits the needs of their student community,” Chris Hipkins said.

“This is a huge win for students and their families,” Green Party mental health spokesperson Chlöe Swarbrick said.

“This initiative supports the commitment in our Confidence & Supply agreement between the Greens and Labour to deliver high quality and timely mental health services to everyone, including free counselling to those under 25 years.

“It’s been three years of grassroots collaboration with advocates and student unions across the country to make this happen. Along the way, I’ve seen communities form, passions founded, lives changed and skills built.

“Today marks huge success, but not the end of the road. We’ll keep working until everybody, everywhere, has the support they need,” Chlöe Swarbrick said.

Q. How will this initiative be implemented?

A.  The Ministry of Education will work closely with the Ministry of Health to accelerate the Ministry of Health's roll-out of youth-specific primary mental health, wellbeing and addiction initiatives to tertiary providers.

The initiative will be implemented through a Request for Proposals (RFP) process in which tertiary providers and health providers (District Health Boards, Primary Health Organisations, and non-governmental organisations) partner to deliver tailored primary level mental wellbeing supports to tertiary students. This approach would help ensure flexibility given individual tertiary providers' different contexts, needs, and student demographics.

The roll-out of services will likely give priority to where students currently have limited access or options for mental wellbeing services or where there is indication of higher levels of need.

Q. When will these mental wellbeing services be available and who will be able to access them?

A. This initiative aims to make more mental wellbeing services available to tertiary education students. The initiative will focus on supporting tertiary students with mild to moderate levels of distress through primary-level supports, which may include evidence informed therapy and treatment services, peer support, cultural support, self-management support and access to a range of social supports. The services may be offered face-to-face, by virtual/digital service or a combination of these.

The expansion of these services will start next year and continue over the following four years as we continue to grow a diverse workforce, with both clinical and peer support for young people. This means we expect that students will notice an expansion in services and increased choices from 2021. Not all students will be able to access them at the same time. It will depend on when the services are established in their tertiary education institute (TEI).

Q. What is a TEI?

A.  Tertiary education institutions (TEIs) comprise universities, institutes of technology and polytechnics, and wānanga. Latest figures show that there are about 300,000 domestic students enrolled in TEIs.