University of Canterbury must improve crisis student communication and support

Need help? In New Zealand, you can call Lifeline on 0800 543 354, Youthline on 0800 37 66 33 or find out about other crisis services here.

Student communication

University of Canterbury James Hight libraryOn 22 July 2016 a woman was sexually assaulted while walking through the University of Canterbury owned Ilam Fields.

In response to a request from the Police, who informed UC Security of a “physical assault”, an email was sent to all students that day.

On 24 July 2016 a reporter from The Press contacted the University in response to the Police releasing a statement to the media. The Police told The Press that the assault was actually a sexual assault, and this fact was published in an article that day. In response to an Official Information Act request, most of which was initially declined, the University said that “the Police appeared not to have told the University of the sexual nature of the incident before telling the media”.

However, the University did not inform students of the sexual nature of the incident after it became public knowledge. The assault was alluded to in a 28 July UC blog post, which included 10 ’safety and security tips’ and a list of ’support for students’ links, including a link to the UC Health Centre. This content was also included in the next edition of the ‘Insider’s Guide Newsletter’, a weekly digest sent to all students, on 31 July.

Last night a student died suddenly at the Rochester and Rutherford Hall of Residence.

The death has been reported as sudden and not suspicious, often used by the media as code for a suspected suicide.

UC acting vice-chancellor, Dr Hamish Cochrane was quoted by the media as saying “all the university’s students and staff were advised [Sunday], and made aware of the support available”.

Communication to students consisted solely of a UC blog post listing four UC support services that are available to students, including the UC Health Centre. Links to blog posts appear for a few days in the sidebar of Learn, UC’s online learning management system which is regularly accessed by students and staff. However, no email was sent to students, and there was no acknowledgment that a student had died.

Late on Sunday night, a link to the blog post was included in the ‘Insider’s Guide Newsletter’ emailed to students.

UC Health Centre Counselling under pressure

Students are struggling to access support.

The UC Health Centre provides free counselling to UC students, however their website states that counselling appointments “are in high demand [and] you may have to wait a few weeks to be seen”. During office hours there is an on-call counsellor to deal with students facing an “emergency situation”.

During this year’s UCSA elections one group of candidates asked students on Facebook which one out of four campaign policies they thought was most important. “Increased mental health awareness and support” was voted second. In response to a question asking how the UCSA should help support those with mental health issues, students voted overwhelmingly for “increased health centre funding for more counsellors”.

Students wanting to skip the UC Health Centre counselling waiting list could choose to pay for sessions with a private counsellor or psychologist. Students may be eligible for the disability allowance, however there are restrictions, including a maximum payment of $61.69 a week (appointments with private psychologists can cost $150 or more).

The Golden Gate Suicide Bridge Documentary

Need help? In New Zealand, you can call Lifeline on 0800 543 354 or Youthline on 0800 37 66 33.

Golden Gate Bridge fog

The Bridge Documentary

“Inspired by a New Yorker story, Jumpers, written by Tad Friend, director Eric Steel decided to train cameras on the Golden Gate Bridge over the course of 2004 to capture the people who attempted to leap off the famed structure, the site of more suicides than anywhere else in the world.

He also tracked down and interviewed the friends, family members, and eyewitnesses to further recreate the events leading up to the incident and to try to explain what led these people to want to kill themselves, especially at this specific site.

The documentary’s primary subjects all struggled with mental illness, including severe depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorders, and the documentary struggles to understand their illness while illuminating the anger and hurt of their loved ones.”

Eric Steel and his crew filmed the Golden Gate Bridge, which has become a suicide magnet, but has no suicide barrier, for 365 days during daylight hours. They captured 23 of the 24 suicides that took place that year (when I first watched this I didn’t realize that the 23 suicides shown weren’t reenactments).

Cue ethical dilemma of if you’re filming the bridge, and think someone who is hanging around the bridge is going to jump, should you intervene?

There’s some interesting interviews with family members, including one family who provide charming quotes like:

  • “We didn’t get a mental illness.”
  • “She wanted more and more support, do you think that was because of a medication change?” “No I think it was because she was ill.” “Oh ’cause she wasn’t feeling well.”
  • “I’ve always thought of myself as a stronger person than her.”

If you don’t want to watch the whole documentary, consider just watching Kevin Hines’ interview. He jumped, and in what could have been the last few seconds of his life, realized that he didn’t want to die. He survived.



Image credits: Chris Willis and Kevin Cole

Punishing the Victims of Suicide

Need help? In New Zealand, you can call Lifeline on 0800 543 354 or Youthline on 0800 37 66 33.

Te Ururoa Flavell, Māori Party MP wrote this piece for The Rotorua Daily Post on suicide prevention.

He seems to miss the boat entirely and says:

“From what I have heard, one is almost wasting time asking why [suicide] happens.”

Instead he suggests we… shame and stigmatize the other victims of suicide—the friends and family of a person who has taken their own life.

“If a child commits suicide, let us consider not celebrating their lives on our marae; perhaps bury them at the entrance of the cemetery so their deaths will be condemned by the people.”

“In doing these things, it demonstrates the depth of disgust the people have with this.”

He Cemeterysays he has seen family members “in their despair, in their real grief,” but has no problem supporting the hijacking of their grief process by not allowing the usual practices to take place and stipulating where a person should be buried. Funerals and related practices aren’t just for the person who has passed away. Just because someone has taken their own life doesn’t make that life any less worth celebrating.

Progressive leader Jim Anderton’s daughter took her own life. He says that those on the verge of suicide are not acting rationally. Would place of and practices around a person’s burial really act as a preventative measure and stop them from taking their own life?

Mr Flavell says he was just trying to get people talking, to find a solution.” Setting up families and friends for embarrassment isn’t that solution and introducing further shame around suicide isn’t the way to encourage people to talk about it—which is what really needs to happen.

Image credit: Nathan Hayag

Not Your Secret To Share?

You might want to skip this post (about suicide) and read about MPs not knowing what’s going on. Need help? In New Zealand, you can call Lifeline on 0800 543 354.

This heartbreaking voicemail recording was shared with me last week. Although I have never believed in holding back secrets, I feel torn about posting this one. Like the young man who gave it to me, I’m haunted by what I could have said to my friend Dave before he took his life.

This is the last thing I heard from my girlfriend in January of 2009. It was right before she took her own life. I didn’t answer the phone because I was in class, and have regretted it ever since.

Postsecret founder Frank Warren speakingA couple of months ago PostSecret published the audio from the voicemail (transcript on hover) a girlfriend left for her boyfriend before she took her own life. Noted in the preamble it seems everyone is divided over whether publishing it was the right decision or not. Either way it was brave publishing by PostSecret.

I think being open about suicide and mental illness in general is great, but does this cross over into the realm of voyeurism? I’m leaning towards no. This illustrates the pain someone feels when they lose someone close to them to suicide. “Could I have done something?” Hopefully sharing this gave the boyfriend a little closure. I think the context is also important, it was published on a site about sharing secrets, not on a news website or social media page for shock value.

The boyfriend wanted this shared. He knew what website he was submitting it to. Was it his secret to share? I say it was his decision. Maybe the boyfriend hadn’t shared this with anyone else. Maybe, because of this, someone will try another number, instead of leaving a voicemail. Maybe this will help someone.

Tweets about this. Hat tip to Ally, though she disagrees with me. She is hilarious and you should follow her blog.

Image credit: Pop!Tech