One of the dangers with an MP like David Seymour raising his profile is that he will also raise the chances of being taken to task for slip ups.
He appears to have slipped up over the last couple of days when he is alleged to have told students suffering from depression to “harden up”. Syemour has apologised “for any offence his comments might have caused”.
A petition has been launched calling for an apology from ACT Party leader David Seymour after he apparently said university students with mental health issues should “harden up”.
Mr Seymour disputed the Victoria University students’ sequence of events, though he has apologised for any offence his comments might have caused.
He was one of a panel of MPs at the university’s Weir House halls talking about the growing mental health issues among students who face significant pressure from studies, paid work and extra-curricular activities.
There were a number of reports Mr Seymour said students would have to “harden up” before passing the microphone to another MP.
It led student Sophie Wynn to launch a petition asking for an apology from Mr Seymour and to consider how damaging the comment was to those with mental illness.
A petition seems a odd response but Seymour’s comments obviously concerned some people. He defended himself:
However, the party’s sole MP believes his comments have been “misreported” and were taken “quite wildly out of context by people with political motivations”.
“I answered a quite long question on a range of issues and I said that you should harden up if you’re going to blame all of your problems on someone else, then that’s not a way to be happy.”
He said people face a number of difficult challenges – financial, academic, work – and some who do have mental illness should seek help.
“In the broader context, I said, ‘Look, sometimes you have to face up to your challenges and believe in yourself.'”
Mr Seymour said had he been asked directly about mental illness, anxiety and depression, his answer would have been different, “but that’s not the question I was asked”.
In Stuff’s ACT leader David Seymour’s ‘harden up’ line stuns Wellington students more details are given about the allegations.
Victoria University law student Sophie Wynn, who has personally suffered from anxiety and depression, was at the politicians’ debate at Victoria University’s Weir House on Monday night when Seymour made the comment.
A student in the audience raised a question about the the rise of depression and anxiety among students as a result of increasing pressures of money, work, extra curricular activities and university work, she said.
“I was completely and utterly disgusted when Seymour replied with ‘harden up’.
“I was further disgusted when I approached him afterwards, to press him further about his comment.
“I asked him if he knew about how anxiety and depression worked, and he said that those who claim to suffer from it are simply not choosing to be happy.
“He claims that people are over-medicated and that by labelling themselves as being mentally ill, they are making excuses as to why they are choosing not to be happy.
“I pushed further, and I shared my personal experiences with anxiety and depression.
“I asked him if he would tell me to harden up, and his response was a firm ‘yes’.
Seymour’s side of the story is also reported:
Seymour said the telling was “completely misrepresenting” what happened on Monday and came from partisan students.
His comment came after a long question about the wider pressures students faced and the mental health issues were just one part of it , he said.
“If you are going to blame every problem on someone else, sometimes you have to harden up.”
People with mental health issues did at times need medical help but he was not in favour medicating for every problem.
During his discussion with Wynn after the debate he told her there was a lot of help available and she should seek it, he said.
“Sometimes you have to make a choice and choose to make the most of things.”
MPs need to be very careful when commenting on mental health issues. What might seem like sensible advice to a healthy MP may not be seen the same way by someone who is suffering from mental problems, as many people are.
United Future Leader Peter Dunne heard the “harden up” comment and- like Seymour – said it was in relation to a wider question about stresses students faced.
Labour Leader Andrew Little was also at the debate and said the “remarkably insensitive” comment was followed by a “sharp intake of breath all around”.
The student had asked a serious question and expected a serious answer, he said.
Law student Olive Wilson – who has also had mental health issues – said the comment hit her and the rest of the audience with disbelief.
An audience of students is likely to include some who are prepared and willing to take to task inappropriate comments from an MP.
Mental Health Foundation chief executive Judi Clements said Seymour’s choice of wording was “unfortunate”.
“The idea that people experiencing mental illness need to ‘harden up’ is unfortunately a common misconception, but it is very unhelpful.
“People in distress deserve our compassion and understanding, not our judgement.”
She was pleased he had since clarified his meaning but said it was unfortunate he did not do that on the night.
“His audience was likely to include people who were negatively affected by his remarks.”
The NZ Union of Students’ Associations has issued a media release saying Seymour should sharpen up on facts over ‘harden up’ comments.
National student president Rory McCourt says official data released by New Zealand’s universities shows Mr Seymour’s dismissive approach is out of step with evidence on the issue.
“Between 2009 and 2014 New Zealand’s eight universities experienced a 24 per cent increase in counselling sessions. At Victoria University, where Mr Seymour spoke, the number of individual students being seen by the counselling service has jumped 44.7% in the same time, to 2,139 students last year.”
Mr McCourt says Mr Seymour should spend some time on campus with students and ask them about the impact of rising rents, longer working hours and unsustainable academic pressure on their studies and mental health.
“I think we’re risking creating a generation of highly-strung graduates. With rises in counselling sessions on almost all campuses, this is a real issue. We’re disappointed Mr Seymour has taken this approach despite the evidence. The data suggests this is a growing problem.”
“How bad does it have to get for politicians to take the deteriorating mental health of our students seriously?”
Hopefully Seymour will learn something from this university experience.
This has nothing to do with ‘PC’ – MPs need to be sensitive to issues like mental health.
UPDATE: NZ Herald has also covered this today – David Seymour’s ‘harden up’ talk blasted
Mr Seymour denied he made those comments, “but I actually said you did have to choose sometimes how you are going to feel about something, which I think is true. But I did not say if you have a mental illness, you have chosen it.”
“You did have to choose sometimes how you are going to feel about something” is on shaky ground when talking about mental illness.
Even in general terms it’s an odd comment. Feelings are felt, not chosen.
The Herald lists some useful contact details:
Where to get help:
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youth services: (06) 3555 906
• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (4pm to 6pm weekdays)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• The Word
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
• CASPER Suicide Prevention
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.