By Shivika Gupta
I love cuddling doggos as much as the next person, but it’s not a cure-all when it comes to mental health. For some students, an interaction with cute and fluffy puppers might be the highlight of their week, but others may need more significant support and long-term solutions. Events like “Pat-A-Pooch” in Stress Less Week trivialise the struggle of many students with diagnosed illnesses, especially if other support doesn’t back up these more symbolic events. Rather, students need visible access to the very legitimate support services UNSW does offer.
The events and initiatives run by Arc for Stress Less Week a couple of weeks ago are no doubt harmless fun and foster a dynamic uni environment, but marketing them as a way to “stress less” undeniably raises alarms bells. The campaign itself makes no mention of responding to mental health. On the Facebook event, where most students would be alerted to the week-long initiative, the term “mental health” is not mentioned. Nor is it present in the website’s description of Stress Less Week.
The on-campus R U OK event last month was great in that it provided extra counsellors on site all day, but this isn’t a once-a-year conversation. The more visibly and frequently access to these services is emphasised, the more that reaching out for professional help will be normalised. If Arc says the point of “wellness” events is to “rais[e] awareness around mental health”, more frank and transparent access to appropriate resources is needed. On one hand, it’s important that Arc isn’t claiming these events directly improve mental health outcomes (nobody thinks tips on how to “grow your own rosemary” is a miracle cure for a clinical diagnosis), but this pointy, stressful end of semester is very obviously a trigger for some students’ mental health, and it is irresponsible not to draw a correlation at all.
A bridge needs to be built between accessibility and the element of fun Arc promotes. This could involve handing out: flyers with an explanation of some common symptoms of mental health conditions that may need further medical checks, a simple and practical “how to guide” of seeking professional help, and a list of relevant resources. Additionally, it’s crucial to make accessibility to counselling staff visible and simple; many students don’t know how to seek help at uni, let alone externally through GPs. On top of this, UNSW’s Counselling and Psychology Services (CAPS) must be well-resourced to appropriately respond to the ebb and flow of demand throughout semester. No student who takes the time and determination to walk in (a student’s first appointment is same-day walk-in only and cannot be booked over the phone) should be turned away, but this is a situation some students may find themselves in multiple times if the spots are already filled.
If we don’t take these steps as a university, we shift to an archaic mode of thinking which assumes that management of mental illness is an individual’s issue to be dealt with in isolation. This places the onus of achieving “wellness” into your own hands, rather than normalising the sometimes necessary guidance of a counsellor or doctor.
It’s important to achieve proper visibility for mental health services and support on campus, so students aren’t misled to believe that a tie-dye pillow case workshop is the solution.
You can find more information on mental health resources both on and off campus here.