Number of students studying Mental Health course doubles in Taranaki

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Story by Stuff reporter Brianna Mcilraith.

Taranaki mental health student Sacha Mills wants to be the change in her community.

And she's far from alone. Student numbers in the health and wellbeing certificate Mills is completing at Taranaki’s Witt polytech have doubled this year to 105.

It is one of a number of qualifications at the institute recording record numbers.

The popularity of the course is being attributed to a surge in interest in mental health following Covid-19 restrictions, that it’s fee free and also that a lack of entry requirements makes it accessible to many.

Mills is studying the New Zealand Certificate in Health and Wellbeing (Social and Community Services Level 4) with strand in Mental Health and Addiction Support.

“I know how it is to not have support when you need it, and I’d like to make a difference to help someone not go through the same thing," she said.

Mills has a high-needs child who she’s struggled to get into mental health support on numerous occasions. She’s asked for help herself, but never received it.

“I've experienced, at different times over the years, the need for support.

“But unless you're in a crisis situation you couldn't get access through the public system with long waiting lists,” she said.

The course was a stepping stone to doing a Bachelor degree in support and social working.

“This gives me a good basis for it,” she said.

The certificate is covered by the Targeted Training and Apprentices Fund, a government initiative which allows students to undertake their study for free in industries where demand is expected to grow due to Covid-19.

At Witt, Information Technology, Engineering & Energy, Trades, Construction & Infrastructure, and Primary Industries are also covered by the fund, which covers study until December 2022.

“I didn't actually realise that when I first did my application,” the 34-year-old said.

“That took one big part of it out of the equation. It's a really beneficial thing."

The New Zealand Certificate in Construction Trade Skills (Carpentry) also went from having 28 students to more than 50 and Te Reo Level 1 numbers have doubled too.

Director, School of Nursing, Health & Wellness, Dr Ruth Crawford, believed the fee coverage and no entry requirements for the course had big impact on the uptake of students.

“It would appear that a key driver for the course this year is accessibility,” she said.

“While we cannot claim specific evidence to support this it would be reasonable to assume that a financial barrier has been removed for some students wanting to pursue study.”

She said there has always been a consistent interest in mental health and addiction studies at Witt and the Covid-19 pandemic made people more aware of the need of mental health workers.

“Given the increased numbers of people who are experiencing mental health distress nationally it would be fair to assume that there is a greater demand for people working in the sector within Taranaki.”

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