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Students’ mental health will be compromised by cuts to counselling service

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has questioned Monash University’s commitment to the mental health and wellbeing of students and staff, in response to management plans to cut in-house counsellor jobs.

The proposal to slash more than one third of full-time-equivalent (FTE) counselling positions comes at a time when thousands of students most need support as they deal with exam stress, the release of results, and navigation of academic progress committees.

The NTEU at Monash has demanded more details of the rationale behind management’s plans, which would reduce the in-house counselling service to 2.4 FTE counselling staff each at Clayton and Caufield, and one coordinator per campus.

“With the student population across the two campuses growing to 51,000, and Monash employing 14,000 staff in Australia, the Union is concerned these cuts will reduce access to counsellors and compromise the quality of care for growing student and staff populations,” said Tony Lad, NTEU Monash Branch President.

“It amounts to cost cutting gone mad. How can Monash raise awareness of mental health issues through R U OK? Day and train staff and students in Mental Health First Aid, then turn around and slash its counselling service? The university also recently circulated flyers with a message from the Vice Chancellor referring students who suffer sexual assault to Monash’s counselling service.”

While management plans to replace Monash counsellors with contractor and private practice psychologists, there appears to be no plan to cover the support services provided by the internal counselling service. Currently, students can walk in and get advice or referrals on a range of concerns that aren’t necessarily categorised as mental health issues but they can be the precursor to one if not resolved soon. If the cuts go through, there’s the possibility that a GP will have to identify whether an issue is a mental illness before making the referral. This includes issues such as:

  • Grieving the death of a loved one, or the break up of a relationship
  • Coming to terms with your sexuality
  • Culture shock
  • Seeking advice to support a friend
  • Needing understanding and support to deal with sexual assault
  • Struggling with transition from high school to university
  • Dealing with parental pressure
  • Failure in units
  • Exam stress
  • Helping a family member with a long-term illness

The new process may cause students to wait until the issue manifests into depression, anxiety or worse, before they can see a GP and get a referral. For university staff, there will be a reduced number of appointments available for free. Without timely access to counselling support, students and staff stand to lose the most.

Contractors charge the university by the hour, are paid per client, and see up to seven clients a day, leaving little time or incentive to conduct follow-ups or referrals, which in-house counsellors currently perform routinely. If a student doesn’t turn up to an appointment for whatever reason, a counsellor on payroll loses nothing. However, private and contractor psychologists will charge a $50 fee for not attending and the student will then have to pay the fee before being able to make another appointment.

“Monash counsellors work as a team during challenging cases and critical incidents, run a series of preventative programs to build mental health resilience and coping skills, and develop invaluable knowledge and understanding of the Monash community,” said Mr Lad.

“There is a very real risk that the standard of these services will be severely diminished if management goes ahead with its planned cuts.”

“We are also concerned that the proposal is a further step towards the full privatisation of counselling services, following a ‘restructure’ in 2013/14 where 30 per cent of staff were cut.”

NTEU supports a petition launched by the Monash Student Association urging management not to proceed with the counselling staff cuts.

If you’re on Twitter: #weRnotOK

NTEU contact details:
Email: monash@nteu.org.au
Contact no.: 0478304800

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NTEU Monash Branch

The author NTEU Monash Branch

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