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).

Stop Sugercoating Bullying

Strong4Life advertising buffet line

The Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta has been running their Strong4Life campaign since May 2011.

Scarred4Life Twitter

This is a parody Twitter account, but the bio is spot on. Here’s a selection of advertisements they have been running:

Strong4Life advertising

Strong4Life advertising

You can watch similar TV spots they have run on their YouTube channel.

Rather than focusing on encouraging healthy behaviors, the ads shame and stigmatize overweight kids.

“What psychologist would think shame and bully ads would be effective?”

None were consulted in the ad campaign creation process:

@5minutesformom No – child psychologists were not part of the creation of the ad campaign. Focus groups with parents were.

— Strong4Life (@strong_4_life) January 28, 2012

So why did they think these ads were a good idea?

“The hard-hitting tone of Children’s Healthcare’s ads were inspired by Georgia METH Project’s ‘Not Even Once’ campaign.”

Because anti-meth ads using the same techniques worked.

Because meth users and kids who are overweight (wait, the ads are targeted at the parents, not the kids!) have so much in common. WHY WOULDN’T IT WORK??

Strong4Life thinks that the ads are okay, because only parents will see them. Not children.

@calledoutrev The ad campaign is targeted toward parents and caretakers- not the children.

— Strong4Life (@strong_4_life) January 6, 2012

Not sure how they come to this conclusion.

From an actual psychologist, Dr Rebecca Puhl, director of research and weight stigma initiatives at the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University:

“There seems to be this perception that it’s OK to shame children and families struggling with obesity because that will provide an incentive to lose weight. However, research in weight bias shows that when individuals feel shamed or stigmatized because of weight they’re actually more likely to engage in behaviors that reinforce obesity: unhealthy eating, avoidance of physical activity, increased caloric intake.”

and

“Alan Guttmacher, director of the Institute of Child Health and Human Development, agreed that the Strong4Life campaign ‘carries a great risk of increasing stigma’ for overweight and obese children.”

The original TV ads stopped airing, but there’s a new one out as of a couple of weeks ago. Most of the billboards have come done, and apparently the rest will come down in March.

“The stigma itself needs to be addressed itself because until we do that, why would a fat child want to go out on the playground and be teased? We want to create an environment where people are not treated so poorly because of their bodies that they’ll want go out and enjoy physical movement.” – Amy Farrell, author of “Fat Shame: Stigma and the Fat Body in American Culture” and a professor of American studies and Women’s & Gender Studies at Dickinson College.

The National Eating Disorders Association called for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to “dimantle [the] alarming, anti-obesity ad campaign that targets and shames children.”

“The ad campaign is most successful at shaming youth who are overweight and reinforcing societal prejudice against children who do not have an ‘ideal’ body type.” “Every day we hear about the terrible rise in bullying within our schools, yet this ad campaign could actually promote and give permission to such behaviors among kids. Sadly, these ads will be successful in shaming children with weight problems and their parents, but will do nothing to promote and educate about wellness and emotional well-being.” “As many as 65% of people with eating disorders say bullying contributed to their condition.”

“Shame on Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta … not shame on the local kids.”

And also, what were the parents of the children in these ads thinking?

The D Word

Comparing sadness to depression is like comparing a paper cut to cutting your hand off.

Black dog

I found myself wanting to say the very thing that I dreaded hearing myself.  “But you seem so normal.”  And the truth is that they are.

Read these a couple of times. They’re good, I promise.

Image credit: Joshua Hoffman

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.

Watch

Buy

Image credits: Chris Willis and Kevin Cole

Red Zone Secrets

Here is something I don’t get. If it is safe for demolition workers to go through the contents of earthquaked buildings before/while/after they’re demolished, why is it not safe for the occupiers?

“Safes found during demolition – there had been only half a dozen – were either opened under police or security firm supervision, or, if they were attached to concrete, dumped.”

Why is this even necessary? Is it that hard to work out that a safe found in the rubble of building X maybe belongs to someone occupying building X? Could we build on that and guess that someone occupying building X would be able to open the safe themselves, without force, even if it is attached to concrete?

ConfidentialScarier, is that computers and files containing confidential information, in this case mental health records are 1) being “thrown out” at all and 2) if they are “water-damaged”, which doesn’t fly with me, aren’t being disposed of securely.

“The items she was most concerned about included files and computer hard drives containing personal information. Securities House, a seven-level building in Gloucester St near Latimer Square, was demolished by March Construction and Shilton and Brown in May. It housed at least nine mental health agencies.

Tenants, tipped off about the demolition, managed to stop a truck leaving the site in the rain and divert it to an empty section where the contents were tipped.

Tenants then spent the next two days retrieving files from the rubbish. The files had been in locked metal cabinets which had been emptied.

Office manager Mark Petrie said he had contacted a project manager at the time of the demolition to be told no chance existed for any records or personal effects to be salvaged.

He was told all records were water-damaged and filing cabinets rusted.

A former Shilton and Brown worker who worked on the Securities House demolition told The Press workers were told to throw files, many of which appeared to him to be in good order, in the rubbish.”

Where have some files gone? Who knows.

“Canterbury Muscular Dystrophy Association office manager Eris Le Compte, whose office was on the first floor of Community House, said she had gone to look for the 230 personal medical files she had in her office.”

Hopefully other businesses are doing better, because it’s not just a couple of buildings in the red zone that are housing sensitive information.

CERA feigns ignorance. Clearly some demolition contractors have no idea what they’re doing (or every idea of what they’re doing). If CERA has no knowledge of specific cases of important belongings going missing inside the red zone they’re obviously not doing a very good job.

“A CERA spokeswoman said CERA regularly and actively engaged with contractors who had a clear understanding of their obligations within contracts and the law.

‘We have no knowledge of the specific cases you refer to and we can’t comment on whether any allegations of loss of goods within the CBD Red Zone are attributed to contractors’ staff or some other person,’ the spokeswoman said.”

What’s been going on inside the red zone raises a number of issues businesses need to be planning for. After an event like the Canterbury Earthquake, how effective will locks, safes, and filing cabinets be at protecting valuable and confidential information through demolition and when 930+ people are left roaming in and around your building for a significant period of time?

Image credit: Jeremy Keith

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