The University of Sydney (USyd) will partner with University Crisis Line, a business unit of Lifeline Direct, to offer after-hours support for students suffering emotional distress ahead of Semester 1 exams this year.
The crisis line, which is being trialled alongside a 24/7 SMS chat service, will supplement the existing daytime availability of Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS) for six months. Student callers will be assisted by “qualified crisis support specialists,” according to a message on the University’s staff intranet.
A University spokesperson told Honi the specialists would be sourced from University Crisis Line and work in consultation with CAPS. The number of specialists staffing the line would vary across the semester, allowing additional support during exam time.
“There will always be sufficient qualified staff to ensure that the crisis line meets it agreed service level of 95% of calls or texts answered immediately and 100% responded to within 30 minutes.”
“Students who contact the University’s crisis line will receive bespoke advice relevant to University of Sydney students,” the spokesperson said.
A joint survey by the National Union of Students and Headspace in 2016 found that 98% of university students aged 16-25 had experienced at least one symptom of a mental health problem which impacted their ability to study.
The new crisis line comes on a backdrop of USyd’s status as the lowest ranked Group of 8 University for student support services, with only 53.5% students giving a positive rating in the 2018 Student Experience Survey.
Growing enrolment figures in the last half-decade have increased raw demand for CAPS’ services, outstripping CAPS’ capacity to provide reliable support. In 2018, CAPS provided 8889 appointments, up from 7933 in 2014. At the same time, CAPS only engaged an annual average of 2460 clients between 2014 and 2018.
Back in March, the SRC passed a motion to “uncap CAPS,” “urging the University to improve, expand and provide additional funding to CAPS and mental health initiatives.” USyd students can only access a maximum of six counselling sessions annually.
The Mental Awareness and Health Society (MAHSoc), first set up in 2013, has worked to promote greater mental health awareness on campus. Its current President, Matilda Rickard, told Honi, the after-hours hotline was “only one step in the right direction.”
“The mental health of students should be a peak priority on campus and we hope the University is held accountable in the process of improving services,” Rickard said.
Interim Pro Vice-Chancellor (Student Life) Wai Fong Chua indicated the need for support outside of business hours.
“Our challenge is to provide sustained support, particularly for vulnerable students, when they need it,” Chua said.
Neighbouring universities, UNSW and UTS, only provide CAPS services during ordinary business hours.
Earlier this year, the Australian National University (ANU) partnered with Lifeline Direct to offer a similar crisis line funded by the Student Services and Amenities Fee, according to reporting by the ANU Observer.
USyd’s crisis line is being funded through the budget of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education).
The University Crisis Line opened on Monday 27th May and operates between 5pm and 9am during weekdays and 24/7 on weekends and public holidays. Phone 1300 474 065 or text 0488 884 429 (SMS chat).
Students requiring mental health support can also call Lifeline at any time on 13 11 14.